Southcentral drought danger decreases after recent heavy rains

Plus, a closer look at the weekly “Drought Monitor” report and graphic
Details on the weekly "Drought Monitor" as Southcentral sees big reduction of drought conditions following recent stretch of rainfall .
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 9:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - During the weather reports on Alaska’s News Source, our weather team has used the word drought several times in the last couple of months, as well as showing viewers the latest drought severity level on the statewide map.

The map that is shown on TV or online is not so simple as whether it’s been wet or dry recently. Other factors such as recent high and low temperatures, soil moisture, and the amount of water in reservoirs and rivers are reviewed and incorporated. These observations are collected and looked over by local meteorologists and climatologists from local National Weather Service offices. They draw a map outlining the various conditions, then send it to the Department of Agriculture at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, which then reviews the information and issues the final report for all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

“We all kind of put our heads together, and we look at the conditions, how dry things are, we look at the Alaska Fire Service and their ratings for how flammable things are. We do look at and we listen to people and communities about maybe are their water supply reservoirs low? Or are they having hydroelectric generation issues? So we take a lot of that into account,” said Brian Brettschneider, Climatologist with the National Weather Service’s Alaska Region.

Officially called the U.S. Drought Monitor, an official map along with statistics galore and a region-by-region discussion is issued weekly on Thursdays. Five shades of yellow, brown, and red represent the following levels

  1. Abnormally Dry,” which is just a “heads up” that the ground and vegetation is getting pretty dry
  2. Moderate, which officially means drought conditions exist; then the levels increase to
  3. Severe
  4. Extreme
  5. Exceptional

It’s a popular and widely used product in the Lower 48, especially with all the agricultural and water interests from the Great Plains westward to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a great example of different government agencies — the Departments of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security — working together to benefit the public and the U.S. economy.

This product, however, is likely something relatively new for many Alaskans. Yes, droughts have been increasing in Alaska in recent years, but indicating the various levels can be tricky since Alaska is a big state, and weather can dramatically flip from one set of conditions to another in a short period of time. During the interview, Brettschneider reviewed such a quick flip-flop this year.

“When we think about summer drought, we really start the slate clean once the snow is finally gone,” Brettschneider said. “And once that happened here, in the spring, the precipitation just really shut down for about two and a half months.”

Like other aspects of meteorology and climatology, it’s not a perfect process. There can be a gap in the data collection time versus when the report and map are issued.

“Sometimes when you come out of a drought, the maps can be a little bit behind because it’s hard to know exactly, and then the timing of when they’re released,” Brettschneider said. “You know, you may have three inches of rain between when you send them the report, when the maps published, and people were like, whoa, you’re still saying we’re in a slight drought. Look at all the rain now. So it can be a little bit tricky to interpret in real-time.”

We have a perfect example of this right now. The most recent report issued last Thursday, July 21 did show a reduction in the drought levels across the state, but there are still some areas of Moderate Drought indicated across Southcentral and through the Interior.

With all of the recent rain, how can that be? Remember, the observational data used for the report is reviewed and submitted early Tuesday morning. So while last Tuesday’s daily record rainfall wasn’t included, it as well as the rain that fell Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday, will be included in this Thursday’s report.

All indications are that Southcentral will be out of the drought, but likely an area of Abnormally Dry will be indicated through much of the Interior, as they largely missed out on the heavy rainfall the past two weeks. Great news, at least for now, but there’s still more than a month of Summer to go, so stay tuned.

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