A Very Warm 2012 Comes To An End.

January 14, 2013 - Precipitation in December ended up being mostly around normal while temperatures in December were quite warm. In fact, it was the warmest December on record for Delaware. Maryland, Virginia, and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia all placed in the the top ten for warmest December. For calendar year 2012, precipitation was fairly typical overall with the driest area ending up in central Virginia while the wettest areas were in the Tidewater Region of Virginia and parts of the Virginia section of the Delmarva Peninsula. Temperatures in calendar year 2012 were the warmest on record for the nation as a whole as well as for Delaware. 2012 was second warmest on record for Maryland and third warmest for Virginia and West Virginia.

For the first half or so of January (and the new year), precipitation has been quite light with amounts of under 1/2 inch. This is only about 1/4 of what should have fallen to date. However, this appears to be about to change as we will see in the outlook below. Over the past 90 days, precipitation has been 3 to nearly 6 inches below average in central and west-central Virginia. Precipitation has been 3 to 6 inches above normal in northeast Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula. Elsewhere, precipitation has been near average plus or minus an inch or so. However, much of this was the result of "Sandy" which will no longer play a role in these precipitation departures in a couple more weeks. Since "Sandy," precipitation has been below average in these areas as well.

Current (January 14) streamflow data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that streamflows are above normal in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and western Maryland due mainly to the recent melting of snow. Streamflows are near normal in the rest of Maryland, Delaware, and far northern and western Virginia but are below normal in the rest of Virginia. Groundwater levels are generally below normal in Virginia but near normal elsewhere.

The US Drought Monitor, as of January 8, indicates moderate drought conditions in the Appomattox River Basin and much of the James River Basin in Virginia. Abnormally dry conditions surround this area. The state of Virginia has posted a drought watch for the Appomattox River Basin and the upper and middle James River region. Drought declarations, if any, are declared by individual states.

With very little snowfall so far in January, little was added to the snowpack that began to form from the late December snow events in the northern and especially mountainous western areas of the southern part of MARFC service area. And, the recent warm temperatures caused quite a bit of the snow to melt. As a result, snow water equivalent, or the amount of water that will be released from the snow when it melts, is under 1/2 inch where there is snow on the ground in the highest mountains. For now, this snow water equivalent is hydrologically insignificant.

The weather outlook for most of the rest of January calls for above normal precipitation in the near term but then below normal precipitation afterwards. Temperatures are expected to average below normal. The Climate Prediction Center's 30 day outlook for January, 2013 calls for near average precipitation and above normal temperatures. The 90 day outlook for January, 2013 through March, 2013 calls for near average precipitation and temperatures.

The outlook for water resources for the next several weeks looks fair in the south and good to very good further north. Though we are currently in an extended dry weather pattern (below or much below average precipitation), a period of (mainly or entirely) wet weather is expected in the near term. This should help to alleviate some of the dry conditions in the short term, but an extended period of above normal precipitation is what will be needed to completely end the dry conditions. For now, a return to dry weather is expected after this next weather system. Water supplies and resources are expected to remain sufficient (further south) to abundant (further north) for the next several weeks. A slow worsening and spreading north of drought conditions in Virginia is possible, even though the time of year does not favor rapid drought development.

In summary, the southern portion of the MARFC service area has sufficient to abundant water resources and water supplies. These water resources are likely to remain stable or increase in the upcoming weeks. With above normal precipitation expected in the near term and generally near or below normal longer term precipitation, water resources should remain sufficient or abundant and no water shortages are expected at least for the next few weeks. Areas in Virginia, however, run the risk of decreasing water resources and supplies, despite the time of year, unless more significant precipitation returns soon.