If you think it’s been wet lately, NASA and the National Weather Service (NWS) agree. In fact, the past 12 months, through April 30, were the wettest ever for the continental United States in 124 years of NWS data. From May 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, the lower 48 states collectively averaged 36.2 inches of precipitation, more than six inches above average for the period.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that just 2.72 percent of the contiguous U.S. is in drought, among the lowest levels in two decades. California is free of drought for the first time since 2011, and as recently as February 2018, one-third of the United States was in drought.
According to scientists at NASA, several events have contributed to the overall trend of higher precipitation levels. These include two category 5 hurricanes last year and a generally wet fall across the East and Midwest. A mild El Niño condition, along with “atmospheric river” events have soaked much of California. And this spring, of course, a series of strong low-pressure systems have brought heavy snowfall, “bomb cyclones,” soaking rain and, as of May 29, 14 consecutive days of tornadoes across the central United States.
So, while drought probably won’t limit agricultural production in most areas this year, many saturated fields remain unplanted headed into June. And while local conditions will vary as always, higher precipitation appears to be a long-term trend in the United States. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment, the national average precipitation has increased an average of 4% per year since 1901, and “the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events are projected to continue to increase over the 21st century.”
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