WASHINGTON -- The eastern half of the country is so soggy that it will be susceptible to flooding this spring -- and much of the West is in the grips of a major drought, government forecasters said yesterday.
Even the copious quantities of rain and snow that fell over the Far West in the past several weeks are no more than a "down payment on a massive moisture deficit" in the area, said Frank Richards, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.
Mr. Richards said that from New Jersey to Wisconsin and south to the Gulf Coast, lakes and rivers are full and the soil is wet, so there will be no place for water to go in the event of heavy rains.
The only area of the Deep South not primed for floods is Florida, Mr. Richards said. The sections of the state south of Daytona Beach on the Atlantic Ocean and Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico are unusually dry, he said.
The forecasts were issued by the weather service's Office of Hydrology and are based on analyses of water supplies in rivers, reservoirs and the ground, Mr. Richards said.
Meanwhile, meteorologists said the outlook through mid-April calls for wet weather across the southern part of the country, from California to the East Coast, again excluding Florida. That state may get more or less rain than normal, forecasters said.
Jim Wagner, senior forecaster with the Climate Analysis Center, said the stormy weather that in recent weeks has brought a measure of relief to drought-stricken areas of Southern California is expected to continue.
He said the center forecasts a 55-to-60-percent chance of above-average rainfall in the southern half of the country, east and west.
But Mr. Richards said water supplies are so badly depleted in California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, North Dakota and in the Missouri and Colorado river systems that even the additional rainfall in some areas will not be sufficient to overcome moisture deficits.