How much rain do we need to end the drought in Alaska?
After months of warm, dry weather the drought has taken its toll. Dry vegetation fueled the spread of massive wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Valley. Some communities on the Kenai Peninsula are bracing for the loss of drinking water as storage tanks run dry.
Anchorage and much of Southcentral picked up some much-needed rain recently, but it will take more than a good soaking to get Southcentral out of the worst drought in recorded history.
Statewide, some 468,000 Alaskans live in drought conditions— that's almost 70% of the population. At the point a drought is declared, the absence of water can be noticed in the dry vegetation and depleting water supply. By the time regions reach extreme drought, vegetation and crop loss become widespread. Water shortages and restrictions often occur.
Alaska experienced its first ever extreme drought in the state this summer. The worst of it close to the Gulf of Alaska. Extreme drought encompasses Anchorage, part of the Valley, part of the northern interior Kenai Peninsula as well as far southern portions of Southeast.
Lack of Rain
The lack of rain stretches back to early June for Southcentral. A persistent ridge of high pressure over the region kept storms away and temperatures high.
Anchorage closed out meteorological summer (June 1 – Aug. 31) as the driest on record. A stretch of time that normally boasts more than 5 and a half inches of rain saw about an inch. That is far shy of the previous driest summer, which happened in 1976 and accumulated just 1.90 inches of rain.
Aside from Anchorage, many areas in Southcentral experienced one of the driest summers in recorded history. But it wasn’t just dry — it was hot, too.
That same stretch of time shattered heat records for the region. Anchorage experienced the warmest June and July ever, and one of the warmest Augusts in recorded history— making it the warmest summer on record.
Heat records fell statewide and Alaska experienced one of the warmest meteorological summers in recorded history. That, coupled with the lack of rain, left the state dry.
Recent rain has done little to help the ongoing drought. In fact, even after a round of rain in the last weekend of August, the drought monitor remained unchanged. That is because it will take a significant amount of rain over a period of time to end the drought.
September brought about a change in the weather pattern. To date, the month is right about on track for normal rainfall. Needed rain stays in the forecast, but how much will it take to end the drought?
What will it take to end the drought?
In order to end the drought, water levels need to return to normal. This includes groundwater, lakes, river, streams and stores. In order to get everything back to normal, it’ll take a lot more than just a few storms. It will take time.
This happened across Interior Alaska already this summer. Weeks of rain helped mitigate drought conditions for a good chunk of the state. But that rain didn’t fall everywhere.
For each region and location, the exact amount of water needed to return things to normal is different. In Alaska, it gets even trickier. Melting glaciers kept many rivers at or above normal levels, and giant reservoirs meant many cities were spared from having to conserve water.
Parts of Southcentral faced the threat of running out of drinking water, but for many the worst of it was dry vegetation.
That means it might not take as much to end the drought. A return to the normally wet weather pattern of this time of year would be enough to start improving drought conditions in Southcentral. If that pattern persists through fall, it would likely be enough to get Southcentral out of the worst of the drought.
The forecast not only calls for a return to a more normal weather pattern, but the climate prediction center expects more rain than normal in the weeks to come.
Snow typically starts accumulating in the mountains of Southcentral in late-fall. Above normal precipitation and mountain snow would not only be helpful in terms of drought relief but overcoming the groundwater deficit in the months to come.
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