Thursday, April 26, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

U.S. drought conditions stable in April; improvements unlikely in western states and much of plains

The Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook shows a small strip of likely improvement in the center of the country, but prospects look worse for an area from Texas through Oregon and eastern Washington.

The one-month change map shows deterioration in much of the plains, especially Texas, and parts of the Southwest. Improvements occurred in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri, as well as the northerm parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Changes in U.S. Drought Monitor status since Oct. 1, the start of the water year, show improvement mostly in northern states from Idaho through Wisconsin and Illinois, and degradation from Kansas to Texas and west through California and up the coast.

The April 29 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 38.43 percent of the contiguous United States in drought, nearly unchanged from the end of March (38.27 percent).
Movers & Shakers for April 2014
State Percent area on
March 25, 2014
Percent  area on April 29, 2014
Biggest increases in drought
Arizona 88.03 98.17  moderate
57.00  61.20  severe
California 71.78 76.68  extreme
Colorado 22.62 29.64  moderate
14.93  18.77   severe

91.26 98.84  moderate
43.14 72.06  severe
14.30  24.68   extreme
0.00 6.79  moderate
Nebraska 64.96 70.39  moderate
Nevada 33.46 38.73  extreme
New Mexico
65.09 86.09  severe
24.56  33.28   extreme
0.00  4.18   exceptional
Oklahoma 32.48 54.81  severe
24.03 39.03  extreme
8.58 20.26  exceptional
Oregon 0.00 9.31  extreme
67.43 74.47  moderate
41.85 52.91  severe
24.97 37.86  extreme
3.48  17.75  exceptional
Utah 64.54 72.34  moderate
16.32 21.94  severe
 Biggest improvements in drought
Hawaii 14.35 0.67  moderate
Iowa 56.68 37.23  moderate
6.84 3.13  severe
Minnesota 18.46 7.79  moderate
Mississippi 15.14 0.000  moderate
Missouri 19.28 11.36  moderate
Oregon 95.15 83.01  moderate
Wisconsin 9.04 0.00  moderate

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


The drought situation does not look to improve in any of the western states in May. Climatologically, very little precipitation can be expected during this time, making improvements less likely. The drought in the central and southern plains also looks to persist, with only some areas in Nebraska, eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma and northeast Texas showing potential for improvements. The drought conditions in the Midwest should also show improvements.


Overall, drought conditions were stable in the United States during April, with the amount of the country in drought increasing slightly (from 38.27 to 38.43 percent). For the contiguous United States, drought areas did intensify in April, though. The amount of the CONUS in severe drought (D2) increased from 23.09 to 26.76 percent, the amount in extreme drought (D3) increased from 9.70 to 12.76 percent, and the amount in exceptional drought (D4) increased from 2.09 to 3.88 percent. Much of the intensification took place in areas of long-term drought in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and California.


Not coincidently, the areas that had cool temperatures also picked up the most precipitation during the month. The wettest areas were in the Midwest and Southeast, where the departures from normal were 0-4 and 4-12 inches, respectively. The central and southern plains, Southwest and western United States remained dry. Most of Texas and Oklahoma recorded less than 50 percent of normal precipitation for the month.


Though April was not as cool as March, a good portion of the United States recorded below-normal temperatures. The coolest temperatures were in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, where departures were 4-8 degrees below normal. Through much of the Midwest and farther south into the Mississippi River Valley, temperatures were 2-4 degrees below normal. As has been the case for much of this year, the western United States and especially California recorded above-normal temperatures in April. California saw temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal while most of the West was 0-2 degrees above normal.

Regional Roundup


Most of the region was cooler than normal in April, with departures of up to 2 degrees below normal fairly common in the region. Even with several precipitation events during the month, most of the region ended April with about 70-90 percent of normal precipitation. Drought has not been a problem in the region, and the area remained drought free during the month of April.


Temperatures in the region were warmer than normal for most locations, with departures of 1-3 degrees above normal common. Areas of Mississippi and Alabama, where the most rain occurred, were also the coolest, with departures of 1-2 degrees below normal for the month. Most of the Southeast experienced a very wet month. Areas of Mississippi, Alabama, southern Georgia and northern Florida recorded precipitation departures of 4-12 inches above normal. Most other areas in the southeast were 0-4 inches above normal for the month. The wet weather was welcomed after the region was starting to dry out and see some areas in drought during March. At the end of April, there was no drought in the region.


The upper Midwest was cold during the month, with temperature departures of 6-8 degrees below normal quite common. Farther south in the region, temperatures were up to 2 degrees above normal for portions of southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Ohio and Kentucky. Almost the entire region recorded above-normal precipitation during April. The greatest departures were in eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, eastern Iowa and most of Wisconsin and Minnesota, where 2-4 inches of precipitation above normal was recorded. The drought status in the region improved with these precipitation events.  Overall, the amount of the Midwest in drought decreased from 13.52 to 7.11 percent and only a few small pockets of severe drought remained in Iowa.

High Plains

The cooler-than-normal temperatures in the upper Midwest extended into the northern plains, where departures in April were 2-6 degrees below normal. Many areas in Nebraska and Kansas were normal to slightly above normal for April temperatures. The wettest areas in April were in North Dakota and portions of western and southern Nebraska. These areas were 1-2 inches above normal for the month. The driest areas were in southeast South Dakota, Kansas and western Nebraska, where departures from normal precipitation were in the 2-3 inch range. Drought conditions worsened and intensified in April, with 32.71 percent of the region now in drought compared to 29.23 percent at the beginning of the month. Severe drought increased from 14.68 percent of the region to 20.10 percent, extreme drought increased from 4.13 to 6.37 percent, and exceptional drought increased from 0.30 to 0.39 percent.


Temperatures were normal to slightly below normal for the region in April. A mix of days of well above and well below normal temperatures made the region appear to have a normal April (as far as temperatures were concerned).  Outside of some areas of extreme northeast Texas, northern Louisiana and eastern Arkansas, the region was at or below normal for precipitation in April. Most areas in Texas and Oklahoma were at less than 50 percent of normal precipitation and departures for the month approached 4 inches. Drought conditions did spread and intensify in April, as 48.77 percent of the region is now in drought compared to 45.86 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought increased from 25.46 to 34.02 percent, extreme drought from 15.81 to 24.32 percent, and exceptional drought from 2.90 to 11.66 percent.


Temperatures continued to be warm over the western United States in April, with the warmest temperatures in California, southern Oregon and western Arizona, where departures for the month were 2-4 degrees above normal. The Pacific Northwest had an active precipitation pattern in April, with portions of northern Oregon into Washington recording amounts 2-4 inches above normal. Areas of southwestern Oregon and northern California were 2-4 inches below normal for the month. Most upper elevation recording stations saw their snowpack peak in April and actually start to decline in response to the warm temperatures and typical seasonal peaks. Drought conditions spread and intensified in April. Overall, 61.43 of the region is now in drought, compared to 60.33 percent at the beginning of April. Severe drought is now at 45.66 percent, compared to 41.95 percent; extreme drought increased from 16.31 to 19.60 percent; and exceptional drought increased from 4.02 to 4.66 percent of the region.

Food prices on the rise, water supplies tight in Southwest, Texas


The NDMC added 124 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in April, with most of those about the water supply in California.

As of April 30 in Texas,  1,157 of the state’s 4,639 water suppliers had imposed voluntary or mandatory water restrictions to extend water supplies amid persistent drought.

California and Texas had the greatest number of impacts recorded in the Drought Impact Reporter during April 2014.

The average snow water equivalent for California as of April 30 was 4.3 inches, or 19 percent of normal.

by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Worsening drought in the western United States and the southern Great Plains increased concerns about rising food prices nationwide, agriculture and water resources in California, and wheat from Kansas south to Texas. Vegetable and fruit prices rose 3 and 2 percent, respectively, in 2013 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a similar increase is expected this year as more than three million acres out of the nine million acres of irrigated land in California receive no surface water, aside from rain. Water shortages were expected in many parts of the Southwest this year.
California’s Thirsting Farmland,” by Stephanie Strom, The New York Times, April 20, 2014.

Record-high beef prices

The retail price for “all fresh” USDA choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 per pound in February, compared to $4.91 one year ago. Consumers paid $3.97 for the same grade of beef in 2008. Years of drought are to blame for the rising beef prices as the lack of feed and water prompt producers to sell livestock, resulting in a smaller herd.
Beef prices hit all-time high in U.S.,” by David Pierson and Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2014.

California water supplies

Water supplies remained tight in parts of the Southwest, and particularly in California, where the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was 32 percent of normal on April 1, when the snow is usually at its deepest, said the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR). The snowpack melted rapidly in April and fell to 18 percent of average on May 1. The CDWR and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation revealed their Drought Operations Plan on April 9, easing water quality rules in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which would entail keeping river flows low and conserving more water in reservoirs, particularly in Shasta Lake. On April 18, the State Water Project and Central Valley Project announced that they would bump up allocations for water districts and farmers by 5 percent of requested water, up from a previous allocation estimate of 0 percent, and from 40 percent to 75 percent, respectively, slightly easing anticipated water shortfalls this summer. Meanwhile, intensive well drilling continued in the Central Valley.
State snowpack survey forebodes tough summer,” by Associated Press, KCRA 3 (Sacramento, Calif.), April 1, 2014.
California water plan unveils hardships to come as drought persists,” by Matt Weiser, The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, April 9, 2014.
California Farmers to Get More Water,” by Associated Press, KCRA 3 (Sacramento, Calif.), April 18, 2014.

Governor’s second emergency proclamation

California Governor Jerry Brown’s second emergency proclamation concerning the ongoing drought softened some environmental protections, shortened the applications process for farmers seeking irrigation water, hastened the process for cities wanting to upgrade or expand their water systems and made the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other emergency responders exempt from competitive bidding rules when buying equipment to fight fires or reduce fire risk.
“California governor issues second drought emergency proclamation,” by Dana Feldman, Reuters, April 25, 2014.

Work scarce in the Central Valley

Farm workers in the Central Valley were struggling to find work and pay their bills because farm work did not begin as usual this year.  More people relied on food banks in lieu of a paycheck to fill their stomachs and rapidly cleared the food banks’ shelves.  Food banks were feeling the pinch of drought because less produce is being grown in the state and fewer produce donations are coming their way. The California Department of Social Services announced that shipments of food assistance will be provided to numerous counties with high unemployment rates and a high proportion of agricultural workers. The first shipment of five $5 million installments of aid will provide prepackaged boxes of nutritionally balanced, nonperishable food in early May.
Drought Squeezing Local Foodbanks,” by Keith Carls, KEYT NewsChannel 3 (Santa Barbara, Calif.), April 16, 2014.
Emergency food aid arrives in Central Coast counties in May,” by Jon K. Brent, KION-TV CBS 46 (Salinas, Calif.), April 22, 2014.

Texas’ water supplies

Texas’ water supplies were also on the dry side in the western half of the state as drought hung on in all but extreme west, south and east Texas.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality notified water rights holders in a March 11 letter that some water rights may be curtailed or suspended without rain to bolster water supplies.
Mineral Wells down to 400-day supply of water,” by Bill Hanna, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, March 31, 2014.

Winter wheat in the Southern Plains

Persistent drought and late freezes harmed the winter wheat crop in the Southern Plains, dropping yield forecasts.  The USDA rated the wheat  crop as 35 percent good to excellent, 36 percent fair and 29 percent poor to very poor on April 6, which is considerably below last fall’s ratings of 62 percent good to excellent, 30 percent fair and 8 percent poor to very poor as the crop entered dormancy.  Some Kansas wheat was turning blue, indicating moisture stress, and some plants were dying.  Much of the wheat in western Oklahoma was damaged and expected to yield far less than usual, if it was harvestable at all.  Wheat in the Texas panhandle and neighboring counties died or was severely stifled by drought.  Oregon and Washington wheat was also stifled by drought.
U.S.D.A. Crop Progress shows declines from fall,” by Laura Lloyd, (Kansas City, Mo.), April 9, 2014.
Kansas Wheat Turning Brown Shows Drought Damage for Winter Crops,” by Jeff Wilson and Megan Durisin, The Washington Post with Bloomberg, (New York), April 29, 2014.
East, west, north and south: Drought's impact extends beyond farmers,” by Jessica Miller, Enid (Okla.) News and Eagle, April 30, 2014.
Farmers fighting wind erosion and continued drought,” by Robert Burns, Abiilene (Texas) Reporter News, April 13, 2014.

Blowing dust

Dust storms have been more common this spring as gusty storm fronts move over drought-stricken land with loose soil or scarce vegetation.   Dust caused multiple vehicle accidents near Tyrone, Oklahoma, and Great Bend, Kansas, with one fatality near Great Bend. 

Oklahoma farmers were urged to forego plowing the soil this spring because blowing dust is already a problem, said the president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.  The National Weather Service has issued blowing dust warnings in recent days because of the exceedingly dry conditions and strong winds. 

Farmers with failed wheat crops were encouraged to try alternative cultivation methods, such as no-till or minimum-till farming to reduce soil loss and conserve soil moisture.
Blowing dust caused multi-car accident near Liberal,” KAKE TV, (Wichita, Kan.), April 27, 2014.
Dust blamed for fatal car accident in central Kansas,” by Associated Press, The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, April 29, 2014.
Update: Oklahoma farmers asked to avoid plowing fields,” by Associated Press, Enid (Okla.) News and Eagle, April 29, 2014.

Arizona, New Mexico fire season worries

Wildfire concerns were ramping up in Arizona and New Mexico as dry conditions and low snowpack portend a dangerous fire season. Fire restrictions took effect on 5.4 million acres of land in western Arizona and southeastern California along the Colorado River on April 25. The Bureau of Land Management Colorado River District enacted the fire restrictions to protect public and natural resources.
Drought to make this year’s fire season more dangerous,” by Howard Fischer, Yuma (Ariz.) Sun, April 2, 2014.
BLM announces Arizona fire restrictions,” by James Gilbert, Yuma (Ariz.) Sun, April 21, 2014.

Las Vegas needs to slow its drain on Lake Mead

Lake Mead, from which Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its water, is becoming increasingly depleted because of drought and demand.  The Southern Nevada Water Authority has contractors building another intake pipe beneath the reservoir which should be completed in the fall of 2015, but it would be wise for Las Vegans to cut water use on grass—about 70 percent of the city’s water goes to lawns, parks and golf courses.  Experts felt that urgent steps should be taken to cut water use in the city, where the per capita water use is 219 gallons of water daily, which is higher than in many cities.  Water rates were low, too, which does not encourage conservation.
Drought -- and neighbors -- press Las Vegas to conserve water,” by John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2014.

Rio Grande River running low in New Mexico

Water will flow in the Rio Grande River in central New Mexico at least through mid-June, said the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when they released the operating plan for the Rio Grande River on April 23.  The agencies will use supplemental water stored in reservoirs to improve flows during the spring and will release strategically timed pulses of water to aid the endangered silvery minnow during spawning season. 

A forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service predicts streamflow will be less than half of average to less than 25 percent of average during the spring and summer.
Feds release Rio Grande forecast,” by Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican, April 23, 2014.

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