The most recent dramatic embodiment of the drought gripping the Southeast came this weekend in the form of a 250-acre wildfire that threatened homes in Conway, South Carolina, and forced 60 homes to be evacuated. It was one of dozens of fires that broke out from Alabama and Florida to Virginia.
A combination of low humidity and high winds contributed to the immediate fire risk, but the long-term drought has set the stage by leaving a lot of dry vegetation ready to burn.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today analyzes the causes of the historic drought gripping the region. While a Bermuda high is a short-term factor, and La Nina, the cold pattern of water in the Southeastern Pacific, is a medium-term factor, there's something else at play. Both La Nina and the Bermuda High affect the flow of air across the country, and in this case conspire to starve the region of moisture.
What the X factor is isn't known for sure. Some long-term global warming models show the American South in a persistent drought as the Earth warms. What is known is that even minute changes to ocean temperatures and currents can have huge effects on world weather patterns, which should be warning enough that messing with the Earth's thermometer is risky business.
The forecast for the South is several more weeks, or months, of drought. At least.
Here's a look at a map of wildfires that broke out this weekend across the region.
NASA Earth Observatory
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.