“Flash Drought” Negatively Impacted Farmers in the Southeast

Cameron McWhirter and Jim Carlton reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Droughts sparked deadly wildfires, killed tens of millions of trees and damaged crops and livestock in large regions of the U.S. in 2016.

“Major regional droughts hit the U.S. this year in the Southeast, California and New England—and all developed differently. But changes in the earth’s climate mean regional droughts and other ‘extreme events are going to be more common than in the past,’ said Brian Fuchs, climatologist at the Nation Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln.

The Southeast saw a ‘flash drought’ this fall that hurt cattle ranchers and production of hay, peanuts and other crops. After a hot and dry summer, the early fall saw no rain in much of the region. ‘The summer didn’t end,’ Mr. Fuchs said. ‘It expanded itself into November.'”

The Journal writers explained that, “California is heading into a sixth year of drought, although conditions have eased in the northern third of the state following abundant rain and snow last winter and above-average precipitation this fall. The California drought has hit the state’s big agriculture sector the hardest, forcing farmers to fallow vast acreages and lay off workers. Exacerbating that situation, farmers have complained, has been federal pumping restrictions put in place a few years ago to protect endangered fish.

“Overall, farmers in 2016 idled about 79,000 acres, costing 4,700 jobs and total economic costs of $603 million, according to estimates by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis. That was a big improvement from 2015, when the center calculated that 540,000 acres were idled at a cost of 21,000 jobs and $2.7 billion in economic impacts.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Last year at this time, 97% of the Golden State was in some degree of drought compared with 73% in 2016, according to estimates by the University of Nebraska’s National Drought Mitigation Center. The rain and snow that has fallen heaviest in Northern California have helped refill reservoirs depleted by drought, prompting state officials earlier this year to lift a mandatory 25% cut in urban water use imposed for the first time statewide in 2015. Folsom Lake near Sacramento, for example, now sits at 61% of its capacity compared with just 14% at this time a year ago—-rising more than 18 feet since just Dec. 1.”

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