Most of the U.S. Is Experiencing Record-Low Drought Levels

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

This winter, relentlessly wet weather patterns bathed the United States with much-needed water. As a result, drought levels in the United States are at their lowest since Y2K, according to an analysis released by the United States Drought Monitor (USDM). Only 5.4 percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions right now, the lowest level on record since the USDM began a weekly analysis of abnormally dry conditions on January 4, 2000.

The USDM’s job is to measure the severity of a region’s dryness based on data like observed rainfall, soil moisture, streamflow, and water levels in lakes and reservoirs. This precipitation data is categorized on a five-point scale that ranges from “abnormal dryness,” the lowest category, to “exceptional drought”—reserved for the worst and longest-lasting drought conditions.

About 12 percent of the country is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions, usually indicative of fleeting dryness that can often be remedied with a decent afternoon of soaking rain. The regions still thirsting for water are mostly in the southeastern United States, where widespread severe drought conditions persist over central and southern parts of Florida. The worst drought conditions exist there and over the mountains of northern Georgia, a tiny area that’s seen a rainfall deficit of 8 to 12 inches since last fall. But drought conditions across the rest of the country are largely scattered and limited in both scope and duration.

A major contributing factor to these delightfully low drought levels is California’s incredible reversal in fortunes this past winter. The state endured a devastating, years-long drought that abruptly came to an end after a steady train of storms rolled ashore and produced copious amounts of rain and snow. Much of central and northern parts of California have seen rainfall amounts of 1 to 2 feet above normal over the past six months. The Sierra Nevada mountain range in particular has seen more than 100 inches of snow this season, erasing previous years’ snowfall deficits and building up a significant reserve of meltwater to replenish downstream reservoirs when the warmth of summer takes hold.

Ironically, areas that were too dry not too long ago are now trying to cope with too much rainfall. North Carolina was hit especially hard toward the end of April, when a slow-moving storm system dropped more than 6 inches of rain across some of the most populated parts of the state. The heavy, steady rain mostly erased the state’s rainfall deficit in one weekend, but it also caused some major flooding problems. Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, found itself in a “flash flood emergency” on April 25, 2017, after excessive rains swelled local waterways beyond their banks and threatened homes, businesses, and major thoroughfares. When it comes to rain, as with everything in life, moderation is the goal.

Lake Michigan Has Frozen Over, and It's an Incredible Sight

Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

A polar vortex has brought deadly temperatures to the Midwest this week, and the weather is having a dramatic effect on one of the region's most famous features. As the Detroit Free Press reports, parts of Lake Michigan have frozen over, and the ice coverage continues to grow.

The Lake Michigan ice extent has increased rapidly throughout January, starting around 1 percent on the first of the month and expanding to close to 40 percent by the end of the month. Yesterday was the coldest January 30 in Chicago history, with temperatures at O'Hare Airport dropping to -23°F. Even though it's frozen, steam can be seen rising off Lake Michigan—something that happens when the air above the lake is significantly colder than the surface. You can watch a stream of this happening from a live cam below.

Lake Michigan's ice coverage is impressive, as these pictures show, but it's still far from breaking a record. Though Lake Michigan has never frozen over completely, it came close during the winter of 1993 to 1994 when ice reached 95 percent coverage.

Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana aren't the only places that have been hit hard by the cold this winter. At the United States/Canada border, Niagara Falls froze to a stop in some spots, a phenomenon that also produced some stunning photographs.


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[h/t Detroit Free Press]

Why You Need to Keep Your Car's Gas Tank Full in Cold Weather

iStock.com/Chalabala
iStock.com/Chalabala

Schools, trains, and the U.S. Postal Service have shut down this week as a polar vortex brings negative double-digit temperatures to the Midwest. Even if residents won't be doing much traveling as long as the dangerous weather persists, they'd benefit from keeping a full tank of gas in their cars: According to the Detroit Free Press, it's an easy way to prevent fuel lines from freezing.

One common reason cars struggle to start in cold weather is blocked-up fuel lines. These tubes are thin, and if there's any moisture in them when temperatures drop to extreme levels, they can freeze, causing blockages that prevent fuel from flowing.

Gasoline, on the other hand, doesn't freeze as easily. It maintains its liquid state in subzero temperatures, like those currently hitting parts of the U.S., so when a gas tank is full, those fuel lines are better equipped to handle to the cold.

If you filled up your tank before the recent cold snap and your car still won't start, it may have something to do with your antifreeze levels. Your car's radiator needs water to work properly, and antifreeze is what keeps the water liquid when temperatures dip below 32°F.

Of course, if temperatures have already dropped to dangerous levels in your area, it's not worth it to drive to the gas station to refuel or run out to stock up on antifreeze. Instead, keep these car maintenance tips in mind for the next time an arctic blast rolls in to town. And when it is safe enough to drive again, resist heating up your engine in the driveway: Letting your car idle in the cold can actually shorten the engine's lifespan.

[h/t Detroit Free Press]

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