End of La Niña puts rain above normal
By Amy Wold
Advocate staff writer
June 25, 2012
After two years of below-average rainfall in Louisiana, this year appears to be shaping up differently.
So far, the state's average rainfall mark stands at 31.6 inches, which is above the normal level of 21.9 inches, said Barry Keim, state climatologist.
During the past two years, less-than-normal rainfall resulted in a deficit of 25 to 30 inches in the state, he said.
The relief from drought started earlier this year when the entire state officially was classified as being completely out of drought, starting in April.
"For the first time in two years, no place anywhere in Louisiana was in drought," Keim said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that the entire state was experiencing some form of drought conditions on June 14 of last year. More than a fourth of the state was classified as being in exceptional drought, the highest drought rating on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale.
However, this year the June 19 drought map shows that almost half of Louisiana is drought-free while the rest is at least "abnormally dry."
No areas of Louisiana are in extreme or in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. However, there are some areas of severe drought in northwest and northeast Louisiana.
La Niña, which typically brings drier weather to Louisiana, has dissipated and Louisiana's weather pattern is currently in a neutral position, Keim said.
La Niña occurs when there are cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, according to information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the aftermath of La Niña's departure, it's possible that there could be an El Niño event forming later this year.
The development of an El Niño weather pattern would typically bring more rain to this area, Keim said.
El Niños occur when there are unusually warm temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, according to NOAA.
Currently, it appears that weather patterns affecting Louisiana are getting back to normal with afternoon rain and thundershowers, he said. That's unlike the past two years, when there would be long stretches without any rain, he said.
"I suspect it's a return to normal, but how long it's going to last is anyone's guess," Keim said. "We've been drought-stricken on and off since, probably, 1999."
Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said the return of some rainfall seems to have helped suppress Louisiana's wildfire threat, leaving the state better off than some areas of the nation that currently are going through spells of very dry weather.
"We're very fortunate," Strain said. "So far, we've had pretty good rainfall on our crops."
Although the wetter weather seems to be easing the threat of wildfires in Louisiana, the year's drier months are still ahead.
So far this year, there have been 462 wildfires that blackened 2,718 acres in the state, Strain said.
That's far lower than what the state experienced last year when, from January through June, there were 1,704 wildfires that burned across 20,858 acres.
Continued near-normal rainfall could help keep those numbers down.
"We're hoping for some cooperation from the weather," Strain said.