The first six months of this year were the driest six-month period on record for Louisiana, causing most of the state to have either extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
From January to June, an average of 17.7 inches of rain fell in Louisiana.
The average rainfall for that six-month period is 30.4 inches, said Barry Keim, state climatologist.
This year became the driest on record — since 1895 when such information was first recorded — after it beat the record set in 1963 when 17.9 inches of rain fell.
In addition, June temperatures tied for the second-hottest June, he said.
The state average temperature for June is 78.7 degrees, but this June the average was 83.5, which ties for the average temperature in 1998, according to Keim.
The hottest June on record in Louisiana was in 2010 with an average temperature of 83.7, he said.
Because of drought conditions, seven parishes were included in a U.S. Department of Agriculture disaster declaration, including Beauregard, Caddo, DeSoto, Sabine, Vernon, Calcasieu and Cameron, according to a June 29 news release from the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
A statewide burn ban continues to be in effect.
In mid-June, the department reported having responded to 197 wildfires that had burned 4,000 acres of wildlife and commercial forest land, compared with 91 wildlife fires for the entire month of June 2010, according to a state Department of Agriculture and Forestry news release.
The main culprit for the dry and hot weather is a weatherpattern called “La Niña,” which has deflected storm fronts to the north of Louisiana, leaving the state dry and hot, Keim said.
La Niña is created by cooler-than-normal water temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean.
Although La Niña was in effect last year, the condition has faded, and there is no La Niña — or El Niño, warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures — conditions which create a “neutral” space, according to Dan Collins, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate prediction center.
“The indications are the neutral conditions will persist into the fall,” Collins said during a news briefing Thursday.
There are indications La Niña conditions could come back, which would likely mean more of the drier weather that Texas and New Mexico have been experiencing, Collins said.
Extreme and exceptional drought will persist in areas of Texas and Oklahoma, but there could be some improvement in areas from Louisiana eastward across the Gulf and Atlantic Coast, Collins said.
That improvement could just mean that drought levels in some areas would drop from “exceptional” to “extreme,” he said.
“It would still keep us in extreme drought,” he said.
This event is unusual because of the geographical size and severity of the drought, said Victor Murphy, Climate Service Program manager for the National Weather Service’s Southern Region.
In Texas, it’s been the driest nine-month period on record with only 8.5 inches of rain, he said.
The southwest portion of Oklahoma is seeing its third- driest year ever and had the lowest winter crop productivity since the 1950s, Murphy said.
“This is an historic event,” said Martin Hoerling, research meteorologist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
The question, he said, is whether the South is in a cycle that will recover with a wet cycle in the next year, or will the area go through consecutive years of drought, which is what happened in the 1950s.
Although the La Niña condition can explain part of the dry weather, it can’t explain all of it, Hoerling said.
In addition, with the rainfall deficit at 50 percent in some areas, it doesn’t appear to be related to climate change since rainfalls are predicted to get smaller by a slight amount, he said.
“We don’t know why this particular nine-month period is so dry,” Hoerling said.
Even a tropical storm or two wouldn’t be enough to take much of the area out of drought conditions.
“We are very deep in the hole. Fifty percent of precipitation is not very easy to recover from,” he said.
It would be almost impossible to pull the area out of the deficit in the next three months, he said.