By John Vlahakis

The national drought footprint shrank slightly this week, as heavy rains fell across the South, Southeast, Midwest and parts of the Mid-Atlantic States, and major snowfall blanketed parts of the Rocky Mountains and Northern Cascades, bringing relief to those regions. However, the hardest-hit drought region, the Great Plains, has continued to experience drier-than-average conditions, with the drought continuing to hold on.  A new federal drought outlook issued on Thursday projects that the drought conditions are likely to remain entrenched through April, and that the drought may even worsen from the Plains to the Rockies and into the Southwest, along with another area of persistent and expanding drought in the Southeast, including southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.  The economic impacts of this drought have been staggering. The drought of 2011-12, which is still ongoing, is comparable in size to severe droughts that occurred in the 1950s, and is already being blamed for more than $35 billion in crop losses alone, according to the reinsurance company Aon Benfield. Others estimate that the total cost could exceed $100 billion, making this event rival Hurricane Sandy for the most expensive natural disaster of 2012.  According to climate scientists, the drought was most likely initially set into motion by the pattern of water temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which can alter weather patterns, but manmade global warming may then have amplified the drought event by leading to multiple extreme heat events during the spring and summer of 2012. These heat events accelerated the development and intensification of the drought.

Photo Credit: John Vlahakis

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