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Drought is gone from much of US

At the end of April, just 6% of the United States was afflicted by drought. That’s a substantial turnaround from a few years ago.

April 25, 2017. Much of the country is currently drought-free (shown in white). One outlier, as shown in the image above, is Georgia (deep orange). Parts of the state remain in extreme drought, and water levels at the Lake Lanier reservoir have sunk 8 feet below full, according to authorities. Areas of Florida, too, continue to suffer from severe drought conditions—a stark contrast to early 2016, when it received record rainfalls. Image via NASA.

In comparison, here’s the U.S. on August 7, 2012. At its driest, about a month later on September 25, than 20 percent of the country was observed to be in “extreme drought,” with more than 40 percent in “severe drought.” According to Drought Monitor standards, “severe” conditions mean likely crop or pasture losses, common water shortages, and water restrictions. “Extreme” drought conditions bring “major crop and pasture losses and “widespread water shortages or restrictions.” Image via NASA.

Drought has largely disappeared from the United States. At the end of April 2017, just 6 percent of the United States was afflicted by drought – the lowest level in 17 years of analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor, according to a report from NASA’s Earth Observatory.

That is a substantial turnaround from a few years ago, when long and short term droughts spread across much of the nation. Matthew Rodell, a hydrologist at NASA, said in a statement:

Two parts of the country that have composed a big portion of [its] drought area in the last decade, Texas and California, now have mostly normal conditions. Texas’s drought broke in 2015, and California’s drought was alleviated by atmospheric rivers that brought heavy rains earlier this year. Combine that with recent precipitation across much of the northwestern and central parts of the nation, and the result is a much-wetter-than-normal map.

The graph above shows each of the drought categories on a timeline since the year 2000, when the Drought Monitor began compiling measurements. Data are gathered from more than 300 sources, including satellites and ground-based reports. Image via NASA.

In mid-2011, many areas of the country began to experience drier-than-average weather. By July 12 of that year, almost 12 percent of the contiguous United States was in an “exceptional” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, including states as far flung as Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida. Rainfall gave some respite in late 2012 before much of the country started drying out again. By 2014, half of the U.S. was experiencing some level of drought.

But conditions have since taken a 180-degree turn, said NASA.

Several seasons of heavy rains in the south and southeast increased soil moisture—but also caused flooding in some instances. States that were scorched by wildfires in 2016—parts of the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia—have been saturated with recent downpours. California, which endured a record-setting drought for several years, has soaked up the moisture in the past nine months. On April 7, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown lifted the state of emergency in most areas.

But, the NASA statement noted:

While plentiful rain signals an end to some record-breaking dry spells, multiple years of unusually hot, dry weather have left lasting damage, killing millions of trees and slowing down crop production.

Bottom line: As of the end of April, 2017, drought has disappeared from much of the United States.

Read more from NASA’s Earth Observatory

Eleanor Imster

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