Drought getting closer to D.C. area
No doubt we're in a dry stretch. Aug. 22 and 23 are the last time more than a trace of rain was measured at Reagan National and Dulles airports, respectively. BWI's virtually rainless streak also goes back to Aug. 23.
According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor issued this morning, the recent dryness and an overall deficit in precipitation for the year to date has much of the area classified as "abnormally dry" -- just a step away from "moderate drought" -- with the exception of D.C. proper and Prince George's, Howard and eastern Montgomery counties. From the Drought Monitor discussion:
Rainfall associated with Hurricane Earl (0.5 to 4.5 inches) prompted improvements in the drought conditions from Long Island to Maine. Away from the path of the hurricane, little to no precipitation fell across this region ... Across northern Virginia, abnormal dryness was expanded from the west toward the District of Columbia to reflect the field reports of deciduous trees dropping leaves and fruit earlier than normal due to lack of recent rainfall.
For the time being, the D.C. metro area isn't as bad off as outlying regions.
Keep reading for more on the status of drought in the D.C. area and beyond...
The biggest precipitation deficits (around 4 inches or more in the past 90 days) are focused from Frederick, Loudoun and northern Fauquier counties toward points west in western Md., northwestern Va. and the panhandle of West Virginia.
Much of the W.V. panhandle and parts of western Md. have now entered "extreme drought" as of this morning's Drought Monitor, having received 40% of normal precipitation over the past 30 and 90 days. Southern Maryland and points east across the lower Eastern Shore are also struggling in the precipitation department.
The lack of moisture has hurt corn crops in areas such as Frederick, Md., and near Salisbury, Md., while a drought emergency could soon be declared in West Virginia. It's also increased the fire risk -- just yesterday much of the region was under a Red Flag Warning as "downsloping" winds from the west (blowing down the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains) brought with them incredibly dry air (relative humidity below 15% and dew points in the low 30s at National).
Locally, precipitation totals since Jan. 1 are below normal, though not terribly extreme...
National - Observed: 21.36"; Normal: 27.25"; Departure from Normal: -5.89"
Dulles - Observed: 26.59"; Normal: 29.27"; Departure from Normal: -2.68"
BWI - Observed: 28.26"; Normal: 29.39" ; Departure from Normal: -1.13"
We've seen worse in recent years, such as early last year as well as in 2007 into the first part of 2008. And we've had an above-normal precipitation month as recently as July, though February is the only other month to clock in on the plus side this year as observed at Reagan National.
In fact, the D.C. area is fortunate the drought situation isn't more dire right now, considering how hot the summer was -- warmer temperatures result in more evaporation of soil moisture. We got "lucky" with periodic and well-aimed thunderstorms during the summer, which have helped fend off drought conditions as defined by the Drought Monitor, but of course brought plenty of their own damaging impacts.
With drought essentially creeping toward the D.C. metro area from the west/northwest and south, the threat could become more serious if we don't see some decent rains as we get into the fall and toward winter. Prospects aren't great in the short term, with Sunday the only day in at least the next week having the potential for showers.
One factor that may not help the situation is the strengthening La Nina -- cooler-than-average water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Nina can sometimes (but not always) favor a drier-than-normal fall in the mid-Atlantic.
The moral of the story is: Enjoy the cooler, mostly sunny and dry weather (with the possible exception of Sunday) now settling in, which we all deserve after surviving this summer's scorching heat and severe storms. But hope that it will soon be followed by some doses of appreciable rain. Drought is one extreme we could do without in this already extreme year of Washington-area weather.
| September 9, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Droughts, Local Climate
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