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A drought-stricken state: how the soils got so dry, and if there's any hope for relief

3 months 3 days 19 hours ago Tuesday, November 28 2023 Nov 28, 2023 November 28, 2023 5:33 PM November 28, 2023 in Weather news
Source: The Storm Station

For the last several months, it seems that we’ve had a hard time getting a lot of significant rain in the capital area.

During January and February of 2023, almost the entire state was not classified under any drought category. That changed in March, when moderate drought expanded into the coastal regions of southeast Louisiana. Starting in June, the drought rapidly expanded and got worse with each passing week. As of late November, 99% of the state is under some level of drought, with 71% under the worst designation – the exceptional drought.

It's common knowledge that a lack of rain leads to drought, but it is not the whole picture. Water evaporates from the soil each day, and plants give off water to the atmosphere through a process called transpiration. Both lead to a loss of water from the ground. Together, we refer to these processes as evapotranspiration. Drought begins to form once rainfall cannot replenish what is lost from the ground via evapotranspiration.

That is precisely what happened this summer. According to State Climatologist Dr. Barry Keim, “extreme heat and a lack of rainfall go hand in hand.” Baton Rouge set a record of 32 days with highs above 100° this year - the previous record being 28 days in 1921. Keim says that “the atmosphere over TX, LA, and MS was excessively stable over the entire summer with a persistent dome of high pressure hanging over the region.” The sun effectively blasted the region, leading to “a flash drought, where drought conditions intensified very rapidly.”

Southeast Louisiana will need to see roughly 20-24” inches of rain in a one-month period or 27-30” in a three-month period to end the drought. This will require several soaking rains over a period of weeks to months to undo the damage.

There is hope for some relief. We will be in an El Niño pattern this winter, which tends to promote higher than normal rainfall. Hopefully, we will be able to eat away at the drought little by little as a result.

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