Storm ends drought across most of state

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Drought conditions across much of the state of Mississippi were broken on Sunday and Monday as a storm system in the Gulf of Mexico spread rain across the state.

Heading into this past weekend more than 75 percent of Mississippi was experiencing drought conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The drought began to develop in central Mississippi in August. Abnormally dry conditions spread to other parts of the state during September and October. By last week, the entire state was abnormally dry prompting Governor Phil Bryant to issue a statewide burn ban.

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West-central regions of Mississippi were experiencing what the Drought Monitor terms as “extreme drought.” Only the category of “exceptional drought” is more severe. Some locales near Jackson had received almost no measurable rainfall since early July.

The northern portion of Pearl River County was experiencing “severe drought,” one category less severe than west-central Mississippi’s “extreme drought.” Meanwhile, in the southern portion of Pearl River County, conditions were not quite as dry, with that area being placed in the “moderate drought” category. The only rain that had fallen in the county in October had been on October 11 and 13, and that was generally less than one-tenth of an inch.

The updated Drought Monitor map that will be issued later today will look radically different for Mississippi than last week’s map. Beginning Saturday night a broad shield of rain began moving into the state from the Gulf and Louisiana. The rain persisted Sunday, then became especially heavy on Sunday night. As of Monday morning, rain totals in Pearl River County ranged from three to six inches.

Six to twelve inches of rain fell in areas in southwest Mississippi near Natchez and McComb, as well as a large swath of southeast Louisiana. Even some of the most drought-stricken areas in central Mississippi had received over four inches of rain.

The cause of the rain was a strong low-pressure system moving toward us from the western Gulf of Mexico. High winds associated with the Gulf low spread across the region with sustained winds Sunday night and early Monday of 20-30 miles per hour with gusts near 50 miles per hour.

The low was not a tropical system, but much of its energy and moisture were associated with the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which had moved northeastward from the eastern Pacific Ocean and Mexico. Patricia set a number of records last Thursday and Friday before hitting the western coast of Mexico, including the highest winds (200 mph) and lowest surface pressure (879 millibars) ever reliably measured in a hurricane in the Western Hemisphere, including the Atlantic and eastern and central Pacific Oceans.

As the Gulf low moves by us and weakens, we should see a gradual return to dry conditions, and continued mild temperatures, for the rest of the workweek. A chance of showers returns for the weekend.

By Skip Rigney