Right Opinion

The Southeast Drought: Nothing New Under the Sun

Joe Bastardi · Nov. 23, 2016

I realize it’s going to be tough to separate the honest climate brokers out there from those who simply are trying to drive home points based on an agenda they cannot retreat from. The classic example is the current Southeast drought. Of course, it’s not a drought for those who were in the path of Hermine, Julia, Matthew or the non-named mid-summer beast that hit Louisiana. (Good job Donald Trump on not needing a named storm to visit and try to help out.) The fact is this: Between 25 and 33 percent of summer rainfall in the South (from roughly I-45 in Texas to the SE coast) comes from systems that have some link to the tropics. Since evaporation rates are high, if there are no tropical systems, it is going to be dry. But the averages are not because of even distribution but instead result from back-and-forth swings that contain a lot of dry years and then some big hitters.

Remember the 2004 hurricane season with the assault on Florida and the South? Let’s look at the Palmer Drought Index then:

There is no drought obviously.

However, by 2007 it’s quite dry over a large area of the nation, but the turn around is dramatic over the Carolinas.

But it goes back and forth. Systems do not have to be named to cause problems. Slow-moving troughs will interact with deep tropical moisture, and that is the key — the years in which you do not have stronger than normal ridges over the Southeast allow extra input of tropical origin. Thus, they will make up for deficits. In any case, last year the indirect interaction of Joaquin and a strong upper trough helped. It became quite wet again.

Last year there was the usual screaming and yelling about climate change when that storm hit the Carolinas, yet such events are part of the natural ebb and flow of nature. Nature needs conflict to resolve the differences that are inherent in the system. I wish the people who use every Tom Dick and Harry event — for Marx Brothers fans, how about Groucho, Chico and Harpo? — would simply look at how this always happens: the pendulum swings. So now this year:

One more thing. What happened to the Texas perma drought that was all the rage back in 2012? Looks pretty wet there still. We said three years ago it would reverse and it has. And guess what? It’s going to get dry again, then wet again, then dry again. You know why? It’s Texas. That’s what weather and climate do in Texas (and in most other places too).

Interested parties should understand what all of us old-timers were taught. Weather and climate are merely the atmosphere’s eternal search for a balance it can never have. It’s because of the nature of the system, which is built for conflict. It’s just a shame that not only do some folks have to focus on forecasting these events, they also have to counter missives that are based on an agenda. The true goal should be getting the forecast right and explaining the why before the what.


Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm, and contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues.

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