September 18, 2005

New Orleans flooded but much of Louisiana too dry

By Ben Berkowitz

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - It is one of Mother
Nature's cruelest ironies: while broad swaths of New Orleans
are still under water, other parts of Louisiana are so dry they
face a severe risk of wildfires.

"It's very dry. Parts of southwest Louisiana are in a
drought already," said Kent Kuyper, a senior forecaster for the
National Weather Service, in an interview at state homeland
security headquarters in Baton Rouge.

Kuyper said that, excluding the rain from Hurricane
Katrina, the region is running about 60 percent below its
normal rainfall levels. The drought conditions have developed
since Katrina hit on August 29.

He blamed an "upper level ridge" that was essentially
parked over the Gulf of Mexico, which is suppressing storm
formation and does not look to let up.

"As of right now there's no chance of rain in the
foreseeable future," Kuyper said.

While Baton Rouge and surrounding areas received heavy
rains earlier this week, the New Orleans area has been almost
bone dry since Katrina hit -- a blessing for rescue workers who
needed anything but more water, but not so rosy for the rest of
the region.

High temperatures in the area have been in the mid-90s,
with lows in the high 70s and lower 80s and heat indices over
100 degrees.

"New Orleans is flooding and southwest Louisiana is
baking," Kuyper said.

Because of the drought conditions, the Louisiana parishes
of St. Tammany, Washington, St. Charles and Jefferson, and all
of southern Mississippi, are under burn bans, restricting the
planned burning of ground cover, according to the Federal
Emergency Management Agency.