The ongoing western megadrought will continue for at least the next few months, federal forecasters announced Thursday in their spring weather outlook.
Overall, a dry, warm spring is predicted for much of the U.S., especially across the western half of the nation, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
“Severe to exceptional drought has persisted in some areas of the West since the summer of 2020 and drought has expanded to the southern Plains and lower Mississippi Valley,” said Jon Gottschalck of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
“With nearly 60% of the continental U.S. experiencing minor to exceptional drought conditions, this is the largest drought coverage we’ve seen in the U.S. since 2013,” he said. This is the second year in a row that drought is a concern across the West, NOAA said.
In fact, the Western megadrought, which has been exacerbated by climate change, is the worst in 1,200 years, researchers say.
And California continued its plunge further into drought conditions: According to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor, 35% of the state is enduring extreme drought, up from just 12% a week ago.
This does not bode well for California's wildfire season, experts warned. During a Thursday conference call for reporters, NOAA's Brad Pugh said, "As we go into the summer months, it will set the stage for elevated risk of wildfire activity."
As for temperatures over the next three months, more than half of the U.S. should see above-average temperatures this spring, and the greatest chances will be in the southern Rockies and southern Plains, NOAA said.
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Below-average temperatures are most likely in the Pacific Northwest.
As for precipitation, above-average rainfall is most likely in portions of the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and the mid-Atlantic, while below-average precipitation is forecast for most of the western and central U.S., NOAA said.
The worst of the nation's flooding this spring should be in the north-central U.S.: “Due to late fall and winter precipitation, which saturated soils and increased streamflows, major flood risk potential is expected for the Red River of the North in North Dakota and James River in South Dakota,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center.
Spring tornado forecast
And while NOAA doesn't predict the severity of the spring tornado season, other weather agencies do produce seasonal forecasts for severe weather: AccuWeather said earlier this week that based on its analysis of weather and climate data, the next several weeks look to be quite active for the severe storms that spawn tornadoes.
"April looks like a very active month," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Paul Pastelok warned. "That could be the most active (month) as far as the number of tornadoes."
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About 200 to 275 tornadoes are forecast to spin up in April, significantly more than what unfolded last April, when only 73 tornadoes were recorded, and well above the average of 155, AccuWeather said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Spring weather forecast 2022: Western megadrought to persist