Monday, December 26, 2011

#2 Weather Disaster of 2011: Southern and Southwest U.S. Drought

With total property and crop losses exceeding $10 billion, the severe drought and heatwave of the spring and summer (and drought continuing into the fall) across the Southern Plains and Southwest U.S. comes in at #2 on the list of billion dollar weather disasters of 2011.

With late winter and early spring rains lacking, the drought was already getting underway across much of Texas and New Mexico by mid-March:

...and would only worsen throughout the summer.  By August 30, extreme to exceptional drought conditions were present across much of the southern Plains and southwest U.S.:

Through December 26, 2011, much of central and eastern Texas still faces a  rainfall deficit of some 15-20 inches for the year, with much of New Mexico facing a deficit of 6-12 inches (note, the deficit is actually larger in some places that saw below normal values of rainfall toward the end of 2010):

Departure From Normal Rainfall for 1/1/11 - 12/26/11

The extreme drought took a heavy toll on livestock and crops across the South.  Not only did ranchers face drought on their own properties, but the widespread nature of the event caused hay and other livestock related feed prices to skyrocket.  Add the increased transportation costs to the mix (to bring feed and other resources in from areas that were not experiencing drought), and it put some family ranchers out of the cattle business altogether.

In Texas alone, drought related losses to livestock are estimated at $2.1 billion.  

Many may not have realized it, but the drought started to affect the pocketbooks of Americans by late summer and early fall, via increasing costs at the grocery store.  In Texas, the peanut crop was particularly hard hit by the drought, which resulted in a dramatic increase in cost in everything from peanut butter to mixed nuts across the country by the fall.

Other crops that took a hit from the hot and dry weather in Texas included wheat (estimated loss of $243 million) and corn (estimated loss of $327 million).

The cotton crop was the hardest hit of all, at an estimated $1.3 billion in Texas alone.

The American Farm Bureau estimated that Thanksgiving dinner cost Americans 13% more to prepare on average this year, compared to 2010 (a similar figure is being cited for your Christmas meal as well).  Among other things, beef prices are up 10-15% and poultry prices are up 15-20% on average (compared to one year ago).

Beneficial rains have fallen across much of the Northeastern portions of the region over the last 30 days:

Departure From Normal Rainfall for 12/1/11 - 12/26/11

...however extreme to exceptional drought conditions remain firmly in place across the majority of southern, central and western Texas into New Mexico and Arizona.  That trend is forecast to continue so for the foreseeable future:

...which will spell a continuation of further economic losses and strong pressure on food prices into at least the first half of 2012.

Editorial note:  The Texas and Southwest U.S. wildfires were not factored into the drought assessment.  When tabulating the list of billion dollar weather disasters of 2011, NOAA classified the wildfires separately.  With $1 billion in associated property losses so far, the Texas and Southwest wildfires of 2011 currently rank in the #12 spot on the list of billion dollar weather disasters of 2011.

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