Dale C. S. Destin |
Antigua is witnessing the worst drought in recent history, dating back to, at least, 1928. The current drought is now over 32 months in length, similar to the drought of 1964-67. However, to date, the record rainfall deficit of 1143 mm (45 in) caused by the current drought, exceeds that of 1964-67 by 254 mm (10 in) or around 29%.
While we don’t have observed monthly rainfall totals beyond 1928, we do have annual totals going back to 1871. Based on this record, 2015 is now the driest year in the series. This translates to 2015 rainfall total occurring once per 500 years, on average. Thus, it’s perhaps the most intense drought since the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
Not only the last year has been the driest on record, but so to have the last two years (24 months). Further, the last 32 months – July 2013 to February 2016, is the driest such period on record. We are missing about a year’s worth of rainfall.
Surface water contributes to around 30% of our potable water mix. However, since the drought started, the country has been completely out of surface water twice with an aggregate duration of around 14 months. We were out of surface water April to September 2014 and again from August 2015 to present.
The drought was caused by a number of climate actors not necessarily all acting at the same time. These include mainly an abundance of the dry and dusty Saharan air layer (SAL) from Africa, positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), negative Tropical North Atlantic (TNA) Index and El Nino. It is fairly well established that these phenomena, in the mentioned phases, cause less than normal rainfall across our area with the converse being true.
The drought got kicked off by the SAL along with unpredictably strong vertical wind shear, sinking air and the weakening of the Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Happily, this resulted in a failed hurricane season in 2013, but unfortunately it also plunged us into what has become our worst rainfall deficit on record.
Contributing to the persistent drought, the NAO has been predominantly positive over the duration of the drought with only nine of the last 32 months having negative (rain-favoured) values. Meanwhile, the TNA was negative (unfavourable rainfall values) for most of January 2014 to June 2015. In 2015, El Nino developed and reach super (record) strength during the latter half of the year.
Droughts are expensive, and severe droughts are severely expensive. It’s believed that the drought has cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars, directly and indirectly. I will address this matter more in a subsequent blog.
The current drought is anticipated to become the longest on record – a further very unwelcome new record. Initial predictions had the drought easing significantly or ending around mid-year. However, our last set of forecasts has it continuing into the second half of the year.