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NOAA's USA drought update.February 20, 2002 — From Maine to Georgia, much of the East Coast is experiencing moderate to extreme levels of drought, according to the latest NOAA National Weather Service U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought emergencies were announced last week for several counties in southern and eastern Pennsylvania, while drought warnings were issued for counties in southeastern New York and western New Jersey.

"Since last October, high pressure systems have deflected storm patterns to the south and north of affected areas along the East Coast, missing localities in need of precipitation," said Douglas LeComte, drought specialist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, which issues the Drought Monitor. "During the first week of the month, the southeast experienced a strong precipitation pattern, but it by no means signaled drought relief for that region."

According to scientists at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, although precipitation was near normal for the nation as a whole from November to January, below-normal precipitation stretched from Florida to Maine, which led to drought conditions along the East Coast.

While NOAA does not declare drought, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center scientists classify drought three ways:

  • Hydrological, or water resources drought—the long-term lake and well-level deficits—which takes longer to start and end; this type of drought causes municipal officials to order water usage restrictions;
  • Agricultural drought, which results from short-term dryness and often causes greater economic impacts;
  • Forested-areas drought, which increases the potential for wildfires.

"At the present time, many areas along the East Coast are in a hydrological or water resources drought," said LeComte. "These conditions are unusual, but not unprecedented. Current conditions on the East Coast were caused by an usually persistent circulation pattern that prevented atmospheric moisture from the Gulf of Mexico reaching the East Coast."

Long-term weather forecasts offer a mixed prognosis for the East Coast. Occasional storms should provide slow overall improvement, but water shortages will continue in a few areas as depicted in the latest Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook.

LeComte added, "With recent near-record low stream flows and reservoir levels for this time of year being reported over portions of the mid-Atlantic and New England states, for example, it will take some time for these regions to work their way out of drought conditions."

The Climate Prediction Center is one of the NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction. NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NWS operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

Relevant Web Sites
Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

NOAA's Seasonal Outlook

NOAA's Drought Assessments

USA Threats Assessment

ENSO (El Niño/La Niña) Diagnostic Discussion

NOAA's Drought Information Center

Today's Weather

Media Contact:
Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, (301) 763-8000 ext. 7163