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Massive winter storm blankets central US
by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Feb 21, 2013

Low snow in winter will prolong drought
Denver (UPI) Feb 23, 2013 - Drought will persist in the U.S. West this summer due in part to a lack of snow this winter, climate, agriculture and water resources experts say.

This week's blizzard brought some relief to the Great Plains but did little to help the West, where ranchers say hay they use to fed cattle is scarce and expensive, The New York Times reported Friday.

"It's approaching a critical situation," said Mike Hungenberg, who owns a 3,000-acre farm in Northern Colorado.

"A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full," Hungenberg said. "This year, you're going in with basically everything empty."

So little water is available, he said, he may scale back planting by a third and sow crops that require less water, like beans.

Reservoir levels are down significantly in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where the ground is abnormally dry, the Times reported.

"We're worse off than we were a year ago," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Forecasters say the West may yet get a wet spring, which would prime the soil for planting, but Andy Pineda of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District said the region is "running out of time" for that to happen.

"We only have a month or two, and we are so far behind it's going to take storms of epic amounts just to get us back to what we would think of as normal," Pineda said.

A national assessment of the drought found 55.8 percent of the United States are still drier than they should be, the newspaper said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and other members of the state's congressional delegation have requested $20 million in emergency funds to help restore watersheds in Colorado ravaged by last year's wildfires. There has been little action on the measure, the Times said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week drought conditions had abated in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, but the portion of the country still facing drought -- most of the West and Florida -- should expect it "to persist or intensify."

A massive winter storm blanketed much of the central United States Thursday, dumping heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain, and even prompting tornado warnings with its high winds.

Tens of millions of people in 24 states were expected to be affected by the storm before it peters out when it reaches the Great Lakes on Friday or Saturday.

But that won't bring clear skies. The storm was pulling a second system up from the Gulf of Mexico that is expected to smother parts of the East Coast with up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow on Saturday and Sunday.

The National Weather Service said as much as 17 inches (43 centimeters) of snow had fallen in parts of Colorado and Kansas by Thursday afternoon.

Other areas from Oklahoma to Ohio were expected to get between six and 18 inches by the time the storm blows over.

Those living on the southern end of the storm were faced with a dangerous mix of freezing rain and sleet, while parts of Arkansas were under an ice storm warning.

Roads and even major highways became completely impassable in some areas and treacherous ice rinks in others, prompting officials to urge people to stay home or pack emergency supplies if they need to drive somewhere.

At least two deaths were reported as a result of the hazardous driving conditions.

Alexander Cody, 18, was killed when his pickup slid into oncoming traffic on an Oklahoma highway Wednesday, KOCO news reported. Kristina Leigh Ann Allen, 19, died after another woman lost control on a snowy Nebraska highway and struck her car Wednesday, WOWT news reported.

Scattered power outages were also reported as ice weighed down power lines and strong winds knocked down trees.

The blinding snow was even illuminated by lightning in some areas -- a phenomenon known as "Thundersnow."

The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency as the storm lashed the midwestern state with a dangerous mix of ice and as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow overnight.

"Missouri stands ready to help communities in need and to deploy the resources to keep folks safe," Governor Jay Nixon said. "I urge all Missourians to keep a close eye on the weather and avoid unnecessary travel."

The state of Kansas shuttered government offices Thursday to keep non-essential workers off the treacherous roads and scores of business owners and school officials followed suit.

The blizzard conditions were so intense in some areas that snow plows were getting stuck and ambulances had trouble getting patients to hospitals.

"The roads throughout Wichita (Kansas) are snow-packed and many are impassible," the Sedgwick county emergency management office warned on its website. "Please stay home and off the roads unless absolutely necessary."

Meanwhile a third storm system was dumping snow in the mountains of Oregon and Washington state, welcome news for local ski resorts.

The precipitation brought by the winter storm could also be welcome in other areas of the country.

"The good news is that at least two of these systems are helping to relieve long-term drought," National Weather Service meteorologist David Roth told AFP.


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