US is almost drought-free, but for how long?
The United States is almost drought-free, with the lowest amount of land officially having drought conditions since tracking began in 2000.
According to the United States Drought Monitor, about 2% of the country is in drought.
Recent heavy precipitation across much of the country helped.
The Drought Monitor places drought into four categories, D1 through D4, which translate to moderate, severe, extreme, and exceptional drought.
No extreme or exceptional drought conditions for the US
While a few areas are still in drought, the situation has improved greatly since this time last year.
In April 2018, almost one-third of the US saw some level of drought, with almost 315,000 square miles falling under the two highest categories, extreme and exceptional.
No areas are currently classified as extreme or exceptional.
With temperatures warming and summer on the way, drought could reemerge, but NOAA’s spring outlook calls for above average precipitation to continue through June for much of the country.
Still, according to David Miskus, a meteorologist from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, some areas, like those along the West Coast, have their dry season in the summer and fall, “so they should normally dry out over the next several months.”
Abnormally wet conditions may help western wildfires… for now
The recent wet weather across places like California could help to dampen the threat of wildfires for the next couple of months, Miskus says.
But the extra rain and snow could bring some consequences in the upcoming warm season.
“This has led to extra growth that normally dies out over the dry and warm summer and fall,” Miskus told CNN.
“Later this year, all this extra dead vegetation may provide extra fuel during California’s normal fire season,” which is typically late summer and fall, Miskus said.
Is climate change playing a role?
California’s mega-drought of 2012-18 was worsened by climate change, according to scientists.
Both the length and severity of the drought allowed scientists to assess the role climate change played in it through a type of statistical analysis known as climate attribution.
But the recent wet period is a relatively short-term trend, according to Miskus, making those comparisons difficult.
“It is not uncommon for the US to go through periods with nearly drought-free conditions,” Miskus said.
However, Brian Fuchs, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, notes last month was the seventh wettest March in 125 years, according to the Palmer Drought Index, which is one tool that goes into creating the drought monitor.
So, while fluctuations between wet and dry periods are common, the current conditions are above average.
Climate studies have pointed to this phenomenon, where Western US states go from extremely dry to extremely wet very quickly. Known as “weather whiplash,” it could become common in the future, thanks to global warming.