Washington, D.C. (WUSA - TV) - The relationship between drought and deforestation has impacts on local ecosystems as well as large scale weather patterns.
The chronic drought and extreme summer heat that has occurred the last several years have led to loss of forest land in the eastern United States.
Also contributing to this loss of forest land has been a series of major storms such as last summer's derecho and Hurricane Sandy this past fall. If this loss of forest land continues, then there may be some long term effects on weather and climate patterns.
The Nation's Capital saw three of the hottest summers on record from 2010 to 2012. Last July, National Airport observed 7 days of triple digit heat, including four consecutive days of highs above the century mark. This combination of record heat and below average rainfall the last several years has led to some loss of forest land across areas of the eastern United States - including the Mid-Atlantic Region.
A recent study done by NASA concludes "nearly 40% of the Mid-Atlantic's forests lost tree canopy cover, ranging from 10% to 15% between 2000 and 2010..." This doesn't take into account forest land lost to commercial development. Forests and parks are invaluable natural resources that provide a cooler place for city dwellers to visit. They also perform the critical function of converting carbon dioxide to oxygen that mammals breathe.
Consecutive summers of extreme heat and below average rainfall - at times reaching moderate drought levels as the Drought Monitor Index illustrates - have thinned out the forests gradually, while two significant events in the past year have taken down a number of trees both in forests as well as in suburban areas. On June 29, 2012, the Nation's Capital saw its hottest June day on record, 104 degrees, which fostered ideal conditions for severe thunderstorms. That evening, the infamous derecho (or long lasting line of severe thunderstorms), passed through the Mid-Atlantic Region. Winds gusted to hurricane strength in excess of 74 mph and knocked down countless trees and power lines. Power outages of up to a week were common for millions of people. Four months later, Hurricane Sandy caused more widespread flooding and wind damage in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Parts of the Northeast are still recovering from that devastation.
This combination of heat and drought coupled with singular, damaging weather events and the damage they cause to forests is in addition to the acres of forest land lost to development. Losing a significant portion of forest has several effects, ranging from a significant decrease in biodiversity to losing an intangible way that the environment cleanses and cools itself. The team of WUSA 9 meteorologists will continue to keep the public apprised of the latest weather forecasts and updates on earth science issues.