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Forecasting Change: Drought issues sweeping across the country

Drier than normal conditions increasing our fire threat

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 file photo, dry desert soil cracks due to the lack of monsoon rainfall in Maricopa, Ariz. In a report released on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters see a dry winter for all of the south from coast-to-coast and say that could worsen an already bad drought. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 file photo, dry desert soil cracks due to the lack of monsoon rainfall in Maricopa, Ariz. In a report released on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters see a dry winter for all of the south from coast-to-coast and say that could worsen an already bad drought. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – This week in Forecasting Change we take a look at drought. The threat of drought is very real in a changing climate. If you are a long time viewer of WKMG, or have read Forecasting Change before, you know that I stress that the “change” will not only be some global warming, it will be quite a bit of “global weirdness,” as I like to call it. In other words, strange things that happen that tie to a changing climate. Wild swings in precipitation is one of those strange things.

As a general rule, the western side of the lower 48 states is the area we think of as being at risk from drought.

(Drought vulnerability index)
(Drought vulnerability index) (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

In the graphic above, California is colored as very low. That’s because it based on the effect of the total state vulnerability and ability to respond. California has a wide economy and lots of experience in dealing with drought. On the same token, Florida is listed as low. We have a tourist economy that ranks us high in the ability to survive drought without totally losing our influx of money.

As a general rule, we adapt well but in a warming world the risk of drought only increases. Since 1980 the inflation-adjusted cost per year in the USA is up to $6.2 Billion. That’s billion with a B! We also average 92 deaths related to drought each year.

This winter season we are forecast to enter a La Niña set up in the Pacific. That will be fewer strong winter storms making it across the Gulf racing into Central Florida. Our usual dry season looks like it could be drier than normal -- that means super dry months ahead, and possibly a rough fire season in the spring.


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