Italian priests are leading prayers for rain, Argentina is rationing electricity and reservoirs in the United States are dropping as seemingly unrelated weather in several regions of the world has led to drought.
The problem is critical in southern Europe, where about 25 percent of the normal amount of rain has fallen since Dec. 1, and in the South American countries of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, officials say.In northwestern Spain, drinking wells have dried up in some towns in Galicia and potable water has had to be brought in by truck. Water is being rationed in other towns in the region. Weather records in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, show the worst drought since 1876.
Electricity in Buenos Aires is shut off for up to three hours a day in different sections of the capital because river levels are too low for hydroelectric plants to operate at full power.
In the United States, the Agriculture Department's chief meteorologist, Norton Strommen, said a recurrence of last year's severe drought is unlikely. However, the Northeast coast has had a dry winter and officials in New York and Boston are worrying about water shortages.
Extremely dry weather has also hit southern Florida, and water usage is being restricted in several towns along the Gulf of Mexico. Severe to extreme drought conditions are also persisting in large sections of the country's Midwest and West, turning the winter wheat crop yellow in some areas.
Most of Africa, where large regions are perennially parched, is enjoying a relatively wet year, however, with replenishing rains falling even in the normally dry Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert.
"Africa has been, for the most part, pretty good," says Dave Mis-kus, a meteorologist with the U.S. Climate Analysis Center in Washington, D.C. "The only really dry area has been southern Zimbabwe and northeastern South Africa."
But along the Mediterranean coast of Europe, the skies have produced little - if any - rain since Dec. 1, forcing some cities in Italy to ration water and prompting priests to add weekly prayers for rain to Roman Catholic church services.
Rainfall has ranged from less than 10 percent to less than 50 percent of normal in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece, weather officials say.
"Those areas along the Mediterranean coast should be getting most of their rain (at this time of year), but that whole region has been extremely dry. Some parts of Italy have had no precipitation at all since Christmas," said Miskus, who tracks worldwide weather patterns.
Since late December, dry weather has spread north through most of the rest of Europe, with large regions receiving less than 2 inches of rain and some areas less than 1 inch. The Scandinavian countries, West Germany, parts of Poland, Scotland, Ireland and England have largely been spared from the dry weather.