Drought Expected to Improve in Plains While Persisting in West

The nation’s worst drought since the 1930s may improve across parts of the Great Plains from South Dakota to eastern Texas while holding on and spreading throughout much of the U.S. West.

Arizona may be the only part of the West that will see improvement from July through September, thanks to expected heavy rains in the summer monsoon season, said Mark Svoboda, monitoring program area leader at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“We have seen the shift of the epicenter to continue to push west,” Svoboda said today in a conference call with reporters. “We have seen a steady push but we still have a large footprint across the country.”

Drought covered almost two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. last year and crop insurance payouts by the federal government reached almost $17.4 billion as of last week.

Currently 44.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. is affected by some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln.

A lack of heavy snowfall in the Rocky Mountains may mean water supply problems for western states and an increased risk of wildfires, Svoboda said.

An area from southern Washington through California has an above-normal wildfire risk, and it’s expected the threat will grow in Arizona and New Mexico in coming months.

Forecasters also expect the West, as well as New England and parts of New York, will have a greater chance of being warmer than normal for the next three months, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The center released its three-month outlook that shows the greatest chance for warmer-than-normal conditions from southern Wyoming through Utah and Oklahoma into western Texas.

The Pacific Northwest and western Texas are expected to have a high chance of below-normal rainfall, while the Southeast may get more than usual.

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