September 14, 2020
We have been blessed with an abundance of rain in Atlanta this summer. While working remotely from home I have been more attuned to each day’s weather pattern. I get an excellent view of outdoor conditions from my home office window, and my desire to get out in the early evening for some exercise makes the weather an important consideration. Checking the local radar on my smartphone is a daily, late afternoon ritual.
Daily humidity showers, or “pop ups” were common in July and August, and certainly something to avoid while taking a long walk or bike ride. The United States Drought Monitor for the Southeast verifies many areas of our region are drought free given the abundance of rain this year. We can consider ourselves very fortunate given the extreme drought in the West, which is one of a number of factors behind the current catastrophic wildfires.
The United State Drought Monitor is a map released every Thursday showing the degree of drought in the nation. Every week precipitation is measured to identify areas of drought and drought accumulation. The Drought Monitor uses five drought classifications from Abnormally Dry to Exceptional Drought. The map breaks down the country into six regions – West, High Plains, South, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. Almost all the Exceptional Drought conditions are in the western half of the US, with largest areas in Oregon and Northern California. The production of the map is a result of collaboration between both federal agencies and public organizations which began in 1999, with the objective of helping educate and mitigate the impacts of drought on our nation and communities.
The catastrophic wildfires raging in the West are clear reminders that extreme moisture deficits can have large scale social, environmental, and economic impacts. Of course, there are other factors at play, including high winds and, evidently, inadequate fire control measures. Nonetheless the drought conditions are a major contributor.
Whether we like it or not droughts are a normal part of the climate cycle. It was only a few years ago that the Southeast was in a prolonged drought condition and substantial wildfires spread over Northern Florida. The scenes of raging forest fires in the West are traumatic and scary. Social media pictures of friends posting photos of the smoky air quality in their San Francisco neighborhoods, and ash accumulation as far south as San Diego, are reminders of how connected we are to each other and our forests. Having the benefit of plentiful rainfall is something we should never take for granted.
Gary B. Martin