Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought hits a 10-year low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 07:05 PM GMT em 30 de Dezembro de 2009

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The weather gods were unusually kind to the U.S. in 2009, as the nation had no hurricane landfalls, a relatively quiet tornado season, no billion-dollar floods, and the lowest drought footprint of the decade by year's end. According to insurance giant Munich Re, the four costliest 2009 weather disasters in the U.S., not including droughts, were:

$2.5 billion: February 10 - 13 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$2.0 billion: June 10 - 18 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.7 billion: April 9 - 11 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.5 billion: March 25 - 26 Severe weather and tornado outbreak


Figure 1. Lake Whitney, Texas in February 2009 (left) and July 2009 (right), after exceptional drought conditions gripped South Central Texas. Image credit: wunderphotographer Icheney44.

Costliest U.S. weather disaster of 2009: the Texas drought
The costliest U.S. weather disaster in 2009 was the Texas drought. According to preliminary estimates, the agricultural losses from the Texas drought will cost close to $4 billion. The drought actually began in 2007 - 2008, and at the beginning of 2009 (Figure 2), much of Texas was already experiencing "exceptional drought"--the highest level of drought classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor. By summer, much below-average rainfall and scorching triple-digit heat caused the exceptional drought region to expand over a large region of South Central Texas. However, by September, the southern branch of the jet stream became more active, as it typically does during strong El Niño events in the Eastern Pacific, putting southern Texas in the path of a series of drought-busting rain storms that continued into the winter. By December, just a few spots of moderate to severe drought remained in Texas. While the short-term drought is over, longer-term drought remains in Texas. Area lakes have seen only modest rises, and will take months to show significant improvements. Lake Corpus Christi was just 33% of capacity on December 26, and other South Central Texas lakes and reservoirs were between 59% and 100% of capacity. With El Niño conditions expected to continue through winter and spring, there is a good chance that Texas will enter summer 2010 free of both short and long-term drought, though.


Figure 2. What a difference a year makes: Texas began the year with exceptional drought conditions over a small region, which expanded to cover a large portion of the state in the summer. Fall and winter rains broke the drought, and by December only a few small spots of drought remained over Texas. The Southeast U.S. also began the year with widespread drought conditions, which eased by summer. However, drought conditions developed over the Desert Southwest, including most of Arizona. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought at a 10-year low
As of December 2009, the U.S. was free of "exceptional drought" for the first time since June 2008, and had the lowest levels of the two highest drought categories--"extreme" and "exceptional"--since June 2005. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor archive, the 4.24% of the country experiencing severe or higher drought conditions in December 2009 was the lowest U.S. drought footprint of the decade (Figure 3). The previous low was 4.57%, in November 2005. This is very good news, since droughts typically cost the U.S. an average of $6 - $8 billion per year, and are our costliest weather-related disasters, according to FEMA. For comparison, Floods cause an average damage of $2.4 billion per year, and hurricanes, $1 - $5 billion per year.


Figure 3. Areal coverage of drought over the Contiguous U.S. from January 2000 to December 2009. Dark red colors are the highest level of drought, "exceptional"; bright red colors include the the next highest level of drought, "extreme (D3); orange colors include the next highest level of drought, "severe" (D2); light orange colors include next highest level of drought conditions, "moderate" (D1); and yellow colors include the lowest level of drought conditions, "Abnormally Dry" (D0). At the end of 2009, the Contiguous U.S. was experiencing its lowest drought footprint of the decade. Image credit: U.S. Drought Portal, National Integrated Drought Information System.

Drought is not increasing in the U.S.
Global warming theory predicts that although global precipitation should increase in a warmer climate, droughts will also increase in intensity, areal coverage, and frequency (Dai et al., 2004). This occurs because when the normal variability of weather patterns brings a period of dry weather to a region, the increased temperatures due to global warming will intensify drought conditions by causing more evaporation and drying up of vegetation. Increased drought is my number one concern regarding climate change for both the U.S. and the world over the next forty years. Two of the three costliest U.S. weather disasters since 1980 have been droughts--the droughts of 1988 and 1980, which cost $71 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The heat waves associated with these droughts claimed over 17,000 lives, according to the National Climatic Data Center publication, Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters. Furthermore, the drought of the 1930s Dust Bowl, which left over 500,000 people homeless and devastated large areas of the Midwest, is regarded to be the third costliest U.S. weather disaster on record, behind Katrina and the 1988 drought. (Ricky Rood has an excellent book on the Dust Bowl that he recommends in his blog post from January). However, despite significantly warmer temperatures over the U.S. over the past 40 years, drought has not increased, according to the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (blue bars, Figure 4). The portion of the U.S. experiencing abnormal drought and exceptionally wet conditions has remained nearly constant at 10% over the past century. A recent paper by Andreadis et al., 2006, summed up 20th century drought in the U.S.: "Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased."


Figure 4. The Climate Extremes Index for January through November for drought (the December stats are not yet available, but the Jan - Nov numbers will not be much different). The worst U.S. droughts on record occurred in the 1930s and 1950s. There has been no trend in the amount of the U.S. covered by drought conditions (blue bars) or by abnormally moist conditions (red bars) over the past century. About 10% of the U.S. is typically covered by abnormally dry or wet conditions (black lines). Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

References
Andreadis, K. M. Lettenmaier, D. P., "Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States", Geo. Res. Letters 33, 10, L10403, DOI 10.1029/2006GL025711

Dai A., K.E. Trenberth, and T. Qian, 2004: A global data set of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 18702002: Relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming", J. Hydrometeorol., 5, 11171130.

Gleason, K.L., J.H. Lawrimore, D.H. Levinson, T.R. Karl, and D.J. Karoly, 2008: "A Revised U.S. Climate Extremes Index", J. Climate, 21, 2124-2137.

Next post
Have a great rest of the decade, everyone, and I'll be back next decade with a new post on the top global weather story of 2009 (yes, I realize that the end of the decade is really on December 31, 2010, but I'll go with the flow on this! I want to thank all of you who helped out the Portlight charity cause this year, everyone who uploaded a wunderphoto, and everyone who participated in the great community we've built here at Wunderground! I look forward to 2010.

Jeff Masters

Lake Travis 2009 Drought (allford)
Over 30 feet below normal Lake Travis near Spicewood Tx is just a river bed.
Lake Travis 2009 Drought
Drought (GaryVA)
Most of Texas has been under serious drought conditions for about a year and a half. Much of the state is under Extreme Drought conditions. The agricultural/ranching/rural areas of the county are most affected, as the drought has a direct and significant impact on the livelihood of those making their living in a way dependent on nature. The importance of rain to daily life is reflected in this sign at a church in rural George West, Texas, in Live Oak, County.
Drought

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My Canadian friend just returned from spending Christmas with family in Edmonton AB. She arrived there the day it hit -46*C but she and her sister managed to get out and walk every day anyway. This is her comment about that Polar Vortex that's bringing us this delightful winter weather:

Whoa! It will sure be interesting to see what develops over the next month or so. I remember when I was in high school that we had a Siberian high that stayed for over a month, and during that entire month the high temperature never got above -30 degrees. It was a record for Edmonton, and I remember them talking about the strength of that high. I believe that, in general, they're one of the reasons that Alberta gets so much sunshine in the winter, but it never registered on me that they tend to be the highest pressure areas anywhere during our winter. And of course, until I came to the U.S. I was completely oblivious to the fact that our cold Alberta weather carried on across the country bringing snow and cold. Really interesting article - thanks for sending it.
Jean
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IKE:
This should kill any bugs outside my house....

"Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 22. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 48.

Monday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 20.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 47.

Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 21."


GFS MOS gives you a low near 13 Monday night doubt offices are going to buy that though.

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my North Louisiana forecast :)

Monday: Partly sunny, with a high near 44.

Monday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 23.

Tuesday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 45.

Tuesday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 24.

Wednesday: A 20 percent chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 45.

Wednesday Night: A chance of rain and snow. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 26. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Thursday: Partly sunny, with a high near 39.

Thursday Night: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 18.

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 36.
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Quoting IKE:
This should kill any bugs outside my house....

"Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 22. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 48.

Monday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 20.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 47.

Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 21."




Thats harsh Ike. Colder than me by about 5 degrees or so!
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
We need a WU bad back blog...


Sorry about being insensitive to those with bad backs, it's really not funny!
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
908. IKE
This should kill any bugs outside my house....

"Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 22. North northwest wind between 5 and 10 mph.

Monday: Sunny, with a high near 48.

Monday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 20.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 47.

Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 21."
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
907. jipmg
Miami mets now forecasting UPPER 30S for metro miami area

CBS4 said "We are taking a look at the models, and its looking like 30s are likely across metro broward and miami dade county for tuesday, Whensday, thursday, and maybe friday"

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We need a WU bad back blog...
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Yup,..I have the ol L5 dats really in bad shape,..thus the leg pain in both thighs.

Id watch the forecast carefully spathy.

We grow a LOT of Sugar cane here and theres a Huge rush on now to harvest the crop west of NOLA in the River Parishes.

Good luck with the buiss.
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
18z GFS:

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Quoting Patrap:
"We aint a'skeered none"

...a Lil feeeze is good for the Soul,and Body.

What dont freeze ya,makes ya heart Fonder.


Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Cold w/o snow is just a big waste of cold air!


Exactly!
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Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
898. IKE
Quoting calusakat:

Go to My Blog and then to My Profile.

Change the setting to ALL there. Click on Update.

The software seems to be willing to at least accept that setting.


Thanks.

What I've done previously is set it to "show all" on Dr. M's blog....then leave the blog...then go back on the blog and it adjusts it to what I wanted.

It also does that on showing 200 comments per page vs. 50.


I'm down to 46.0 at my house.
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting PcolaDan:


The very reason I don't post much. People snipping at each other because they misread or misinterpret something or are just easily offended.

Wanna' Cookie? Or a beer?
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"We aint a'skeered none"

...a Lil feeeze is good for the Soul,and Body.

What dont freeze ya,makes ya heart Fonder.
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
Quoting aquak9:
double sigh..

Carry on, go in peace.


Don't worry :o)!! I've gotta lotta love for you!! This Arctic airmass is making us a wee bit cranky.
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting IKE:
I have my comments set to 200 per page and it keeps going back to 50.

Also have it set to "show all" and it keeps going back to "show average".

Go to your My Blog and then to your My Profile.

Change the setting to SHOW ALL there. Click on Update.

The software seems to be willing to at least accept that setting.
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Quoting charlottefl:
Tomorrow's Temps here:

HIGH: 25
LOW: 9


Ah, the joys of visiting Tennessee :0)!!
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Cold w/o snow is just a big waste of cold air!
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Summer in Vostok,almost Balmy


Vostok, Antarctica (Airport)


Temperature: -33 °F
Humidity: 41%
Dew Point: -42 °F
Wind: 9 mph from the SW
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
All this cold in eastern NC, and not a bit of snow :(
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Tomorrow's Temps here:

HIGH: 25
LOW: 9
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Oh, boy, everybody! Look at this pretty picture from NWS Houston, TX:

Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
All I have to say is I am thankful only a "chunk" of the Siberian/Arctic air will make it to Dallas-Ft Worth, TX. As it stands now, we'll have high near freezing and lows near 15-20F for about 3 days.

If a bigger chunk makes it into the CONUS, it's going to be an "ugly cold"!
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Hey Everyone. Made it to Tennessee. It was 36 at 4:00pm. Temps didn't climb real high today. Gonna get cold for this Floridian.
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885. auburn (Mod)
Snow back in my forecast for this coming week!!!
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18Z is "Da bomb" too.

Wowsa..
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
882. IKE
Quoting Patrap:
Yeah,,Im finding show 100 works well for now Ike.

I bet the server is "giggling" at us all.


LOL.
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
881. IKE
18Z GFS back on the snow in the SE USA bandwagon.
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Yeah,,Im finding show 100 works well for now Ike.

I bet the server is "giggling" at us all.
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
879. IKE
I have my comments set to 200 per page and it keeps going back to 50.

Also have it set to "show all" and it keeps going back to "show average".
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Don't want to take up a full page. The NWS Ft Worth-Dallas, TX has ALOT to say about the Siberian Express. Hope you like it REAL cold:
Link
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Hopefully We can get together this Spring StormW as I'm gonna try and make the NHC conference.

Would be a good time and good conversation.
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
Yes chief,the glitch started yesterday evening and there isnt anyone near the server out in San Fran due to the Holiday I presume.

If I had a 9/16th's ratchet and a needle nose plier's I think I could make a quick fix,but..on second thought.

naaaaaaaaaa....

Happy New Year's too,Semper Paratus style.



Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
Quoting StormW:
Anybody know if there is a problem with the blog? I keep clicking "Newest First" for the order of posting, and it isn't working.

TIA!


Started last night. Also settings for radar won't stay either. Little buggy with the new look maybe?
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Quoting IKE:
Drama on the blog? LOL.


The very reason I don't post much. People snipping at each other because they misread or misinterpret something or are just easily offended.
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Nice touch by the Rose Bowl Committee to have Capt. C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made an emergency Landing in the Hudson River as the Grand Marshal.
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127834
869. IKE
Drama on the blog? LOL.
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
All is good, folks.
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Folks affectionately poke or sideswipe each other here all the time...

Wanna' cookie? Or a beer??
Peace be with you, also, Aqua...seriously.
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I'm getting 29 degrees for my low tonight in Hillsborough.
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865. IKE
Quoting AllyBama:
yea Ike..I was off checking out Intellicast and Accuweather - looks like all weather sites are agreeing on the "no-snow" thing..oh well, maybe next time - at least we are getting closer - if that counts!..lol


Models can flip-flop. Would I bet on it happening? No. Never down this far south. Is it still possible? Yes.


Long-term from Houston,Texas....

"BELOW NORMAL TEMPS AND DRY CONDITIONS ARE ON TAP TO START THE WORK
WEEK. HOWEVER...THE FORECAST GETS VERY INTERESTING ON WEDNESDAY AS
MOISTURE RETURNS AHEAD OF AN ARCTIC FRONT THAT THE GFS AND ECMWF
MOVE ACROSS THE REGION ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND INTO EARLY THURSDAY.
THERE COULD BE ENOUGH MOISTURE LEFT LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT TO
SUPPORT A CHG OVR TO SOME SLEET OR SNOW ACROSS NORTHERN AREAS.
WILL CONTINUE TO MONITOR THAT POSSIBILITY. HAVE MIN/MAX TEMPS
RANGING FROM 5 TO 12 DEGREES BELOW THE GFS MEX GUIDANCE ON THU
AND FRI OF NEXT WEEK AS THE ARCTIC AIRMASS SHOULD BE VERY COLD
CONSIDERING THE SOURCE REGION AND SNOW PACK THAT EXISTS ACROSS THE
CEN AND NORTHERN PLAINS. STAY TUNED."
Member Since: Junho 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
yea Ike..I was off checking out Intellicast and Accuweather - looks like all weather sites are agreeing on the "no-snow" thing..oh well, maybe next time - at least we are getting closer - if that counts!..lol
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double sigh..

Carry on, go in peace.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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