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Big dry in Europe, big dry in USA

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This image, made with data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, reveals high temperatures that contributed to hazardous fire conditions. Image: NASA's Earth Observatory

An afterword about the drought conditions in the USA, centering on the state of Texas, and analysis from the USDA and the World Meteorological Organisation on the extremely dry conditions over northern Europe. This is May 2011 and keeping in mind what happened last year in Russia and Central Asia, we’re going to watch the big crop-growing areas very carefully over the next few weeks.

NASA’s Earth Observatory has said ‘Drought and Heat Create Hazardous Fire Conditions in Texas’ – So far in 2011, more than 1.4 million acres have burned in Texas, a result of some 800 fires. Why is fire activity so extreme in Texas this year? This image reveals high temperatures that contributed to hazardous fire conditions.

Fire needs dry fuel to burn, and weather conditions in March and April turned Texas into a tinderbox. The state began the winter dry season with abundant vegetation, following a moist spring in 2010. But then drought settled over the state in late 2010 and early 2011, culminating in the driest March on record. Many areas received less than 5 percent of their normal rainfall, according to the state climatologist.

In addition to being dry, March and April were warmer than normal. The image shows ground temperatures for April 7 to April 14 compared to long-term average for the week. The red tones indicate that most of Texas was much warmer than average, further drying out the abundant grasses, shrubs, and trees already suffering from a lack of rain.

In its latest World Agricultural Production report (2011 May) the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Foreign Agricultural Service has said that the European Union’s (EU) primary wheat and rapeseed region is struggling with dryness. “Dryness prevailed in northern Europe during March and April and continues into May, with far-below-normal precipitation levels and much-above-average temperatures. The high temperatures accelerated plant development so that crops are two to three weeks ahead of normal.”

Dry/drought conditions in Europe. Image: WMO

The report said that dryness is reportedly also interfering with fertilizer uptake by the crops. Both wheat and rapeseed crops need rainfall soon to prevent sharp yield reductions in northern France, northern Germany, England, and western Poland. These affected areas comprise a large portion of the EU’s primary wheat and rapeseed belt.

Planting conditions were generally favorable for EU winter wheat and rapeseed crops last autumn, with adequate soil moisture across most countries, including France and the United Kingdom. In some areas of central Europe however, (including Germany, Hungary, and Romania), rain and wet soils impeded planting, and some fields were likely left unplanted to be sown later with spring crops. Overall, the EU’s winter was rather mild despite one period during late February when minimum temperatures dropped to between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees Celsius for several days in snow-free areas of eastern Germany and western Poland.

The World Meteorological Union, for all its heavyweight authority, has only a couple of paras about the drought conditions in Europe 2011. “A long-lasting dry period persists over large parts of Europe since January 2011. According to data of the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), especially the months February to April 2011 had a considerable rain deficit over large parts of Europe. The 3-month totals over this period ranged between 40 and 80% of the long-term mean 1951-2000 over large areas (see figure below), in many parts of central Europe even below 40%.”

The United Kingdom had extremely dry conditions in March and April, said the WMO, especially in its southeastern parts and experienced its driest March since 1953. The other parts of western and central Europe all had a dry February, March and April. 2011 was up to now one of the driest 10 years in nearly whole Switzerland since 1864. April 2011 was one of the 10 driest April months in Germany since 1881, in continuation of similarly dry April months in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Also the preceding winter 2010/11 was very dry at least in western Europe, causing a very low soil moisture during March and April.

Written by makanaka

May 12, 2011 at 20:42

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