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NOAA's drought outlookNovember 16, 2001 — For dry states on the East Coast, there is some hope over the horizon. A stormier pattern is shaping up and should bring overdue rain from Georgia to Maine by the end of the month, forecasters at NOAA's National Weather Service said Friday. In its monthly drought outlook for the nation, forecasters said they will monitor the changing weather patterns for clues to whether the break in the dry spell is temporary, or one that lasts a while.

"The key word for this forecast is `relief'," said Doug Le Comte, a scientist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "The forecast provides some hope that this new [storm] pattern will bring both short and long-term relief across the eastern half of the country."

If the outlook holds promise for the East, then the heavy rains this week in the drought-plagued Pacific Northwest and Texas have been nothing short of relief. The rains have eased the potential for wildfires across Washington and Oregon, and in Texas, this week's deluge has chipped away at water deficits.

Good News, Bad News
The good news for many East Coast states, Le Comte said, is that long-range outlooks don't show below-normal rain and snow to persist this winter. "By the end of February, these areas should see improvement in drought conditions," he said.

Drought conditions should improve this winter in Texas and throughout the southern Plains. In the West, especially the Pacific Northwest, the outlook doesn't call for a repeat of last winter's dearth of snow and rain, Le Comte said.

However, the news isn't so good from central and southern Georgia to southeastern Virginia. "The odds favor the drought to linger," Le Comte said, adding periodic storms may bring temporary improvement in the coming months.

Reasons and Impacts of the Eastern Drought
Sunny days this fall came with a price: The lack of rain caused reservoirs to drop, farmers to worry and wildfires to ignite. Dry conditions have sparked wildfires in parts of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. The mountains in eastern Kentucky have been shrouded in fire and smoke, pushing the total of burned acreage passed 150,000.

Washington, D.C., recorded its driest September-October period since 1967. Connecticut and New Jersey experienced their third driest October. It was the fourth driest October for Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia.

"Beginning in August, the current dry spell has brought less than a quarter of the precipitation we would normally expect in parts of the Northeast," said Peter Gabrielson, deputy regional hydrologist at the National Weather Service Eastern Region headquarters. He also said in Maine, shallow wells are running dry and New York City reservoirs stand at only 33 percent capacity.

Le Comte said the position of the jet stream's upper-air currents, which normally bring precipitation to the East, have been cutting off a crucial moisture source from the Gulf of Mexico. And even when the jet stream dipped and created large storms, the pattern of the currents quickly changed, erasing the chances of rain in the dry East Coast states.

"The result was drought, or near-drought conditions that grew worse by the day," Le Comte said.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Seasonal Outlook

NOAA's Drought Assessments

NOAA's Drought Termination and Amelioration

NOAA's Animated Indicator Maps for Drought Monitor

Climate of 2001 - September U.S. Drought

Climate of 2001 - September U.S. National Drought Overview

USA Threats Assessment

ENSO (El Niño/La Niña) Diagnostic Discussion

NOAA's Drought Information Center

Today's Weather

Media Contacts:
Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, (301) 763-8000, ext. 7163 or John Leslie, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622