More than half of the contiguous United States was in drought in early May, government climate officials reported Monday, as the wildfire season started earlier and the number of tornadoes was above average.
The figure from the US Drought Monitor — which 53.8% of the lower 48 states were in drought — is technically an improvement from the spectacular low in March, when the figure exceeded 60%.
But so far this year, more land in the continental United States has received less precipitation than expected than any other year since 2012.
The consequences of the mega-drought are increasingly visible in Nevada, where last month the water level of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in America, dropped so low that it revealed to the once a five-decade-old intake valve for Nevada water customers and a bad decomposed body in a barrel in an area submerged for decades.
Overall, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information, April was wetter and cooler than historical averages. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that a slight improvement over the past two months in drought conditions in the lower Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, the northern Rockies and Plains, the Pacific Northwest and parts of Hawaii were thwarted by the spread and strengthening of drought in the West, Central Plains and Deep South.
Drier conditions in the West are leading to an earlier start to the wildfire season, fueling several fires that erupted in New Mexico in April and have since continued to burn, coalesce and grow.
As of Monday, New Mexico’s largest wildfire, the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire, was only 43% contained after scorching nearly 200,000 acres.
After a brief hiatus, winds picked up on Sunday and the fire spread overnight to an area larger than the city of Philadelphia. Red flag warnings in the southwest on Monday meant firefighters expected treacherous weather conditions to continue spurring wildfire growth in the coming days.
A record number of tornadoes in March were followed in April, NOAA wrote, by “above average” tornado activity.
More than 100 tornado reports arose from extreme weather in the southeast on April 5. They included an EF4 in Pembroke, Georgia, about 35 miles west of Savannah.
On April 12, severe storms in central Texas produced a 5.6-inch hailstone and an EF3 tornado in Salado.
And on April 29, a tornado in Andover, Kansas was caught on video and widely shared on social media and in news reports. It was part of a system that produced tornadoes in Nebraska, as well as other tornadoes in Kansas.