A new map released by the National Drought Mitigation Center presents a shocking image of the country: the area of the south now impacted by drought is larger than the portion of California that is under drought conditions.
Historically anomalous wildfires are currently burning in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, driven by the dry conditions. The inferno has been driven by high winds, some blowing at velocities in the range of 80-90 miles per hour, and has been burning for four days. The town of Gatlinburg has been significantly damaged by the fires.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed because multiple fires are burning there.
Altogether, wildfires are burning across at least 95,000 acres in seven southeastern states. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 15 active conflagrations.
NDMC’s weekly report, released Nov. 23, indicates that only Florida and the coastal southeast are experiencing lower-than-average temperatures. A report by the Southeast Regional Climate Center released earlier in November said that precipitation in many parts of the region is running at 30-70 percent of normal. Describing current conditions in the interior southeast, NDMC said that dryness is ubiquitious:
“[H]undreds (at least 212) new fires have started in the Southeast, with 30 of them classified as large wildfires (100 acres or more), and burn bans were widespread across the region. Streams were at record and near-record low levels. Severe agricultural impacts (stock ponds drying up, winter feed being used to keep cattle alive since fall started) were widespread across the South and Southeast.”
Residents of the western states and New England may face a relatively mild winter this year, according to a new prediction by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
The agency’s U.S. Winter Outlook, released today, indicates that the coastal and inter-mountain west will likely experience average winter temperatures that are above normal.
“The temperature outlook for November-December-January (NDJ) 2014-15 indicates elevated probabilities of above-normal mean temperatures for Alaska, the far west, along the northern tier of the continental U.S. eastward to include parts of the northeast and mid-Atlantic,” the document said. “Below-normal mean temperatures are most likely over areas from eastern New Mexico to the western Gulf coast states.”
Warmer does not mean drier, though. NOAA said that higher-than-average precipitation can be expected in southern California, the desert southwest, the southern Great Plains, across the deep south, and up the Atlantic coast to southern New England.
That may be good news for water-starved California, though the drought there is not likely to end.
“While we’re predicting at least a two-in-three chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said.
An El Nino event could well happen this winter, but if it does, it is expected to be a weak one. NOAA estimated on Oct. 9 that there is a 67 percent chance of an El Nino event in the coming months.