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Spring has sprung in winter

Lauren Morello, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, March 16, 2012

If you think spring has jumped the gun this year, you're right.

The season doesn't officially start until Tuesday, but much of the United States is experiencing unusually warm temperatures. And the situation isn't expected to change any time soon, federal forecasters said yesterday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 90-day spring outlook predicts the unseasonal warmth will continue through June, accompanied by dry conditions in much of the southern half of the country.

That includes Texas, which has been gripped by a historic drought for more than a year.

Scientists predict the peak bloom of Washington's cherry blossoms could move back as far as a month by
2080. This photo shows last year's bloom. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Recent rains have begun to ease drought in the northeast part of the state, as well as eastern Oklahoma and parts of Louisiana, but recovery will be slow, officials said. They warned that dry conditions could lead to above-average wildfire seasons.

Two-thirds of Texas is experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to data released yesterday by the U.S. Drought Monitor, extending what is now a 51-week streak.

"In much of the Southern Plains, even where we have seen improvement, the historical magnitude of the
2011 drought means recovery will be a slow process," said David Brown, NOAA's director of Southern
Region Climate Services.

That slow recovery is evident to rice farmers in southeast Texas, who will not receive any water this year from the Lower Colorado River Authority. The authority said this month that it would cut off the farmers' supply this year -- for the first time in its history -- because of low water levels at two central Texas reservoirs.

Megadrought worsens, flood threat eases

Meanwhile, drought is worsening in nearby New Mexico, where 60 percent of the state is now classified as suffering severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to data released yesterday by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Water levels in the state's reservoirs are below normal, due in part to below-average snowfall last winter, Brown said. Nationwide, only the winters of 1991 and 1980 had lower snow cover than the past winter, according to NOAA records.

Drought is also worsening in the Southeastern United States, where more than three-quarters of Georgia is now considered to be experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

The water level at Lake Lanier, the north Georgia reservoir that supplies much of the drinking water for the Atlanta metropolitan area, is 5 feet below the typical "full pool" level for this time of year, Brown said. Streamflows on the Flint River have been hovering near historic lows.

In much of the country, it's also unseasonably hot right now, forecasters said.

Wednesday saw 577 temperature records fall across the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center -- including not just 400 record warm daytime high temperatures, but 177 record warm nighttime lows.

In Washington, D.C., where the mercury climbed into the low 80s yesterday, unusually warm temperatures are accelerating the annual bloom of the city's cherry trees. Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival originally expected peak bloom between March 24-31 but now expect the cherry blossoms to peak between March 20-23.

The upside of this year's warm, dry conditions is a reduced flood risk compared to recent years, forecasters said. This is the first time in four years that large parts of the United States are not at risk of major flooding.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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