United States: Widespread water deficits forecast in the East through December

19 October 2017

The Big Picture

The 12-month forecast above indicates some pockets of intense water deficits in northwest Washington, diminishing somewhat through western Oregon and regaining strength in Northern California. Moderate to extreme deficits are forecast for northwestern Minnesota, the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, West Virginia, and eastern Maine. Primarily moderate deficits are expected from northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania southward through the Virginias, Carolinas, Georgia, and into the Florida Panhandle. Drier than normal conditions are also forecast for Iowa, central Illinois, southernmost Texas, northern Montana, central Colorado, and scattered pockets in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Exceptional surpluses are forecast for southeastern Texas, and surpluses ranging from moderate to exceptional are forecast for southwestern Idaho into western Wyoming and northwestern Utah.  Both deficits and surpluses are predicted in northern Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, and northwestern Montana.

Moderate to severe surpluses are forecast from northeastern Minnesota leading southwest through eastern South Dakota. Some moderate to extreme surpluses are forecast for southernmost Florida and in the northeast, with both deficits and surpluses across the southern part of the state.

Outside the contiguous US, deficits are forecast for eastern Alaska, particularly in the Copper River Basin in the southeast. Surpluses are forecast for Hawaii.

On the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that struck Texas and Florida in August and early September, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane with 155mph winds, blasted through Puerto Rico on September 20th, knocking out all power on the island, crippling communications, and leveling many highly populated communities in the country of 3.4 million.

Three weeks later, the death toll was at 48 and mounting, 85 percent of residents remained without power, and 1.2 million without potable water. Around 19,000 military and civilian relief workers have been dispatched, according to FEMA, and a $70 million emergency assistance package has been approved for water and sewage services repairs. Victims of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands will share a $36.5 billion disaster aid package approved by the House of Representative.

In their desperate quest for water, some Puerto Ricans are collecting from a well in an EPA designated Superfund site contaminated with industrial toxins.

With conditions in much of Puerto Rico unlivable and facing a lengthy infrastructure restoration process, many people have fled to the US mainland. Nearly 20,000 Puerto Ricans have passed through Florida airports in the past two weeks. Experts predict the out-migration, particularly of young technical professionals, could further depress the island's economic condition, and that the general exodus will reshape mainland host communities.

US job numbers reflect recent weather impacts - the economy lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first monthly decline in seven years - though economists view this as a temporary blip.

The death toll from fires raging in Northern California in mid-October has risen to 42. Warm weather and dry air has slowed containment of multiple fires that have turned communities in the state's wine country to ashes and turned the air toxic with arsenic, cadmium, copper and lead. Particulate matter from the fires is estimated at 10,000 tons of PM2.5, a PM reading associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and an amount roughly the equivalent of 35 million vehicles.

Forecast Breakdown
The 3-month maps (below) show the evolving conditions in more detail.

Please note that we are well aware of the recent devastation wrought by hurricanes. Readers are advised that inputs used in our Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM), the model used to generate “Global Water Monitor and Forecast Watch List,” have been proven reliable in forecasting broad precipitation patterns, but are not effective for predicting singular events such as tropical storms. Detailed outlooks and analyses of tropical storms are available from NOAA National Hurricane Center.

The map series clearly indicates the increasing emergence of deficits throughout much of the eastern half US which are expected to be exceptional in the Virginias and Pennsylvania, and severe to extreme in southwestern Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, eastern Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana, western Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, the Carolinas, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine.

Moderate to exceptional surpluses are forecast to emerge in central and eastern Minnesota and surpluses will continue to emerge in northwestern Wisconsin, the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and in Florida. Surpluses of varying severity including exceptional are forecast for Idaho and nearby areas of surrounding states, and pockets in central Nebraska, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas. Moderate surpluses may emerge along the Canadian River through the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico.

After December deficits in the eastern half of the US are expected to diminish considerably in extent and severity, but severe deficits will persist in the Carolinas and southern Louisiana. Intense surpluses will continue to emerge in much of Minnesota, with surpluses of lesser severity in Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Some moderate surpluses are forecast in New York and southern New Hampshire. Deficits in the Ohio River Valley will transition to mild surpluses. Primarily moderate surpluses will continue in Idaho and surrounding states, and moderate surpluses are expected to emerge along the Platte River in Nebraska.

The forecast for the final months – April through June – indicates surpluses in the Northern Rockies and along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. (It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

Note on Administrative Boundaries
There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.


Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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