If you’ve been wondering whether or not recent rain and wintry precipitation in our region has made a significant dent in the long-term drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor map for Virginia released Thursday replies with a resounding “No.” The area of moderate drought expanded slightly westward to Roanoke’s northwest along the I-64 corridor, and continues to cover the state from the New River Valley east to Richmond and from the North Carolina line (really, from Atlanta and central South Carolina, where it gives way to even darker shades signifying deeper drought) to Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. The National Weather Service in Blacksburg issued a statement Thursday coinciding with the release of the new drought map, noting that stream flows did “respond positively” to the rains near Christmas but without further rain, it won’t do a lot of good for the long-term drought situation. And, as a reminder, a huge portion of the central U.S. continues to suffer even more extreme levels of drought. Winter is the season when soils and reservoirs regain moisture for the spring and summer ahead. So far, it’s not looking good for our region or for many areas that provide food to the nation and much of the world.
There’s not much in the way of precipitation in the near future for Southwest Virginia. A series of upper-air disturbances are passing through over the next three days, but they are moisture starved, and encountering a “convergent” upper-air flow (wind vectors blowing toward each other, rather than diverging, or splitting) that cuts off atmospheric lift for what little moisture there is. Some brief periods of rain, freezing rain, sleet or snow may be possible, with perhaps the best chance late Saturday and early Sunday. At this time it does not look like a significant precipitation event, wintry or otherwise, will occur through at least next Wednesday. The latter half of next week, however, may produce a large central U.S. storm system moving toward the Great Lakes that could bring widespread and significant rain to much of the South and East, preceded by a few days of warmth that may reach the 60s as southerly and southwesterly winds ahead of the storm sweep milder air into our region. There are signals that storm systems in the central U.S. will help bring down significantly colder air into the Plains by late next week, perhaps spreading eastward after that. And there are hints that a significant Arctic outbreak is a possibility for the latter half of January.