The Gulf Coast’s most significant rainfall in months will bring much-needed relief this week to portions of the Gulf Coast, helping to alleviate Louisiana’s worst drought on record – one that’s fueled unprecedented wildfires and helped trigger an alarming saltwater intrusion into the Mississippi River.
Exceptional drought – the US Drought Monitor’s most extreme category – is entrenched across 73% of Louisiana, according to data released Thursday. It’s the largest area of exceptional drought on record in the state. Exceptional drought has also spread across nearly half of Mississippi and a portion of eastern Texas.
A significant rainfall deficit resulting from an incredibly hot and dry summer is to blame for these expansive areas of drought along the Gulf Coast, but multiple days of rain this week will help the region make up some crucial ground.
Widespread rainfall amounts of 1 to 3 inches are expected across southern Louisiana, mainly south of Interstate 10, from Monday to Wednesday. Higher amounts are possible along the coastline, where up to 5 inches could fall in some locations.
“Any kind of rainfall we can get, especially when it’s widespread like this, is very beneficial to the area,” said Doug Cramer, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Showers and areas of steady rain spread across parts of the Texas and Louisiana early Monday as a slow-moving storm churns just off the coast. Rainfall will expand in scope and become steadier across Louisiana by late Monday and continue through at least Wednesday morning as the storm moves slowly over the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The rainfall is unlikely to cause significant flooding, but the stormy weather will lead to choppy seas and coastal flooding at high tide.
By Wednesday, rain will expand farther eastward to drench portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Whether the rainfall will make enough of a dent in Louisiana’s exceptional drought to warrant a downgrade in drought intensity remains to be seen.
“It’s possible,” Cramer told CNN, noting it is difficult to say with any certainty whether drought categories will change until a rainfall analysis begins after the event concludes.
“It does appear as though [Louisiana] is going to continue to see rain chances over the next couple of weeks, so that’s good news,” Cramer added.
Year-to-date, parts of Louisiana have had less than half of the rainfall typically recorded at this point in the year. As of Sunday, only 27 inches of rain had fallen in New Orleans – the second-driest year-to-date the city has ever reported by early November. New Orleans typically receives close to 56 inches of rain by early November.
In the long term, Cramer pointed to El Niño as further good news for drought reduction.
“El Niño is typically wet along the Gulf Coast over the winter time, so we’re optimistic we can start to move the needle on this.”
CNN’s Robert Shackelford contributed to this story.
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