Snow Not Enough to Eradicate Drought, Restore Water Supply

By Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
December 31, 2012; 4:17 AM
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Snow coverage map courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Following a year of severe drought across the United States, the precipitation from winter 2013 may not be enough to eradicate dry conditions and return the water supply to normal levels.

The snow cover compared to last year on this date for the contiguous U.S., is significantly wider: approximately 65 percent versus last year's 25 percent.

The highest percentage of snow coverage in any month last year just barely reached 48 percent.

But despite the seemingly wide coverage right now and talk of more snow to come, the U.S., will not be quick to recover.

"Our current snow cover is not anything unusual. It was just way less than normal last winter," said Expert Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston.

"Snow cover will probably hold for much of this month but we expect it to turn drier and milder again over western U.S. to the central and northern Plains in February, which should cause the overall snow coverage to decrease."

Above average snowfall would be necessary to bounce back this winter, with more than 42 percent of the U.S., still undergoing severe to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

But as the Winter Forecast predicts, not a lot of additional snow is expected from the central and northern plains, corn belt and upper midwest areas that are still very dry.

The snow covering these areas are equal to less than an inch of water, Boston said.

As a result, flooding is unlikely to be a big threat this Spring. Snow melt will likely be gradual and begin in late January.

"Unfortunately, it actually looks drier, we feel, for these areas, not only the last half of this winter but even into the Spring. I am not at all optimistic for much in the way of relief," he said.

This could mean another tough year for the agricultural industry, which struggled to produce a sufficient corn crop in 2012.

The Mississippi River may also remain problematic, after facing remarkably low levels this year, which has slowed barge traffic and, at times, threatened to halt it completely.

The likely areas of improvement for the river are south of St. Louis, with a better chance south of Memphis, Boston said.

The southeastern U.S., where drought has stricken Alabama to the Carolinas and Virginia, may have a shot a recovery as forecasts above normal precipitation.


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