U.S. flood risk low, but droughts, wildfires could continue

Reuters / No area of the United States faces a high risk of major flooding this spring for the first time in four years, but continuing drought across the southern and western parts of the country could lead to wildfires, U.S. government forecasters said March 15.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its spring outlook that low winter precipitation means few parts of the United States face above-normal flood risks.

But above-average spring temperatures expected in much of the country and drier-than-average conditions could exacerbate ongoing drought in some areas.

“The 2011 drought had significant economic impacts, especially in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico,” NOAA said.

“If the drought persists as predicted, it will likely result in an active wildfire season, continued stress on crops and livestock due to low water levels, and an expansion of water conservation measures.”

Drought is expected to persist across the southern United States and expand in the southwest. The agency said several states have reported reservoirs at below-normal levels since lower winter precipitation means less snow is melting and replenishing water supplies.

Forecasters said on a conference call that the drought is expected to be less severe but more widespread than in 2011.

Officials said the Ohio River basin and parts of the Gulf Coast would see above-normal flood risks during the spring due to high river levels and anticipated above-average rainfall.

Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service, said heavy rainfall in the spring could still cause floods even in areas where the risk is expected to be low, as evidenced by recent flash floods in southern Louisiana.

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