Latest Forecast Shows the U.S. Drought Moving West

BY Rebecca Jacobson  May 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM EST

Last year’s drought scorched over half of country last year. Now that drought is shifting towards the Southwest and western Plains, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which held a meeting on summer drought outlook Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Mark Svoboda, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, says the American Southwest and western Great Plains are likely to see the effects of the drought deepen, and it’s possible for the drought to reach areas of the Pacific Northwest, like Oregon and Idaho.

But the conditions in the East are improving. Rain from last year’s Tropical Storm Isaac brought much needed relief to the Midwest, and a wet, cool April has improved conditions for much of the Mississippi Valley.

At the end of last summer, about 65 percent of the country was experiencing drought. Today, the extent of the drought has dropped to 48 percent — but it is far from over, Svoboda warns.

“It wouldn’t take too much for the drought to push east again,” he said. “It’s still vulnerable and not in a full recovery.”

Farmers and ranchers are still reeling from last year’s heat, but this spring hasn’t shown any relief to farmers and ranchers in the western Great Plains, where the drought is expected to continue. Chip Ramsey, a cattle rancher in the Nebraska panhandle, says if the region doesn’t see half of its annual rainfall by the end of May, farms are in trouble. At that point, the cost of raising cattle will double. It means that cattle ranchers will have to start selling their herd, and paying higher costs for feed. And for ranchers like himself, there’s a high emotional price tag as well.

“You spent your life building a herd, and now you’re selling them off,” he said. “It’s quite tough to live with.”

And people are running out of optimism, said Bradley Fuller, owner of Western Horizons Corporation in southwest Kansas. As a result of drought in his county, water bills have doubled, he said at today’s meeting, because they haven’t had normal rainfall since 2007.

“My pastures are going to take years to recover,” he said.

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