Thursday, April 26, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

December 2013 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought improves in the East, intensifies and expands in the West in December 2013

The Dec. 3, 2013, U.S. Drought Monitor showed 30.95 percent of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse, mostly in the West.
This four-week change map shows improvements to the U.S. Drought Monitor in the East, where abnormally dry conditions were eradicated during the month, a mixed bag in the central states, and worsening in the West.
The 52-week U.S. Drought Monitor change map shows dramatic improvement in the Plains and central states and in the Southeast, and worsening conditions on the West Coast. 
The U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for Jan. 31, 2014, anticipates that drought will persist across California, Nevada and parts of adjacent states, and in an area from western Nebraska through the Texas Panhandle.

Movers & Shakers for December 2013

State Percent area
Dec. 3, 2013
Percent  area Dec. 31, 2013

Biggest Increases in Drought

Oregon 38.36 62.59 moderate
Oklahoma 30.90 38.17 moderate
15.93 18.99 severe
Kansas 40.68 46.92 moderate

Biggest Improvements in Drought

Connecticut 18.26 5.41 moderate
Massachusetts 60.46 54.05 moderate
Rhode Island 24.31 4.49 moderate
New Mexico 36.30 32.68 moderate
Texas 47.39 43.84 moderate
Utah 65.18 58.28 moderate

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

Drought: Precipitation over the eastern United States helped some areas that had been drying out over the last several months, but the West stayed dry and some areas got drier. The summary U.S. Drought Monitor statistics did not change much at all during the month. December ended with 30.95 percent of the contiguous United States in moderate or worse drought compared to 30.59 percent at the beginning of the month. The amount of severe or worse drought increased slightly as well, to 16.67 percent, compared with 16.5 percent at the start of the month. A year ago, 61.09 percent of the contiguous United States was in moderate drought or worse and 42.05 percent was in severe drought or worse. Some areas did not see much improvement at all in 2013, especially from an area in southwest Nebraska south through western Kansas and into the Texas Panhandle. This area is still in the grips of a multi-year drought.

Temperatures: Most of the United States had below-normal temperatures in December. The Plains and Upper Midwest had temperatures of 6-12 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the month. Portions of the central Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin had temperatures as much as 9-12 degrees below normal. On the warm side, areas from the Mid-Atlantic south and in the Southeast were 3-6 degrees above normal. In California and other parts of the West, temperatures were  up to 3 degrees above normal.

Precipitation: Dry conditions dominated the Midwest, Central Plains, Southwest and West in December. Most of southern Oregon, California, southern Nevada and western Arizona recorded less than 25 percent of normal precipitation for the month. On the other end of the spectrum, parts of the northern Plains, northern Rockies, and East Coast recorded 3-6 inches above-normal precipitation. 

Regional Overviews

Northeast: Drought coverage decreased from 7.50 to 6.76 percent of the Northeast during December as much of the region had above-normal precipitation. Deficits are still a problem and the areas still in drought need good winter precipitation to avoid impacts related to fire, low streamflow and soil moisture.

Southeast: Good rain through areas of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas helped ease the dryness of the past several months. Some areas recorded precipitation that was 4-5 inches above normal in December. At the end of the year, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the Southeast as drought-free and only 8.18 percent of the region was abnormally dry.

Midwest: Drought improved overall in the region from 18.49 to 17.70 percent. Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, southern Illinois and the boot heel of southeast Missouri recorded 3-4 inches above normal precipitation for the month, and Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan were an inch or two above normal. Areas in between were dry, with most of Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri below normal for the month.

High Plains: Northern areas of the High Plains were an inch or so above normal while the rest of the region was below normal. Overall, drought conditions spread slightly from 19.29 to 20.60 percent of the region during December. Much of the decline in conditions was in western Kansas and eastern Colorado, areas (along with southwest Nebraska) that did not experience much drought relief at all in 2013.

South: Above-normal precipitation in Arkansas and portions of central and west Texas contrasted with the dryness in southeast Texas and Louisiana. Drought improved in the South, as the spatial extent decreased from 28.25 to 27.23 percent of the region, but severe drought expanded to 13.21 percent of the area, up from 12.64 percent on Dec. 10.

West: Outside of the northern Rockies and portions of Nevada and Utah, most of the West was very dry in December. Areas along the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington had precipitation that was 9-12 inches below normal for the month. Moderate or worse drought increased from 49.99 to 51.44 percent of the region in December, and severe or worse drought increased from 30.86 to 31.11 percent.

Outlook: The drought areas of the West are likely to persist and expand in January. Eastern Texas and the Midwest may see some improvements and the drought conditions in the Northeast will probably be eliminated. Temperatures are likely to remain below normal for much of the Midwest.

Lack of rain increasing water worries in California, Texas,
limiting hay supplies in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Texas

The Drought Impact Reporter logged 60 impacts in December, with 25 for California as the state wrestled with  concerns about water supply, fire and agricultural issues.

Of the 60 impacts for December, 30 percent related to water supply and quality.

As a large, populous state at a critical juncture in its water supply, California had by far more impacts reported than other states in December.

Most of California’s reservoirs were below historical averages near the end of December 2013, particularly in the northern part of the state.

Map from the California Department of Water Resources.

This map from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality shows that as of Jan. 8, 394 water systems had voluntary restrictions and 755 had mandatory restrictions.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist


Dry conditions

California appeared to be headed for a third dry winter because storms had not materialized to deepen the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. California State Water Project officials estimated in November that the initial water allocation would be just 5 percent of contracted amounts, given the past two years of below-normal precipitation and low reservoir levels.1

Livestock producers needed rain to get Central Valley pastures growing for winter grazing. Ranchers were selling some cattle, buying feed to get through the winter and wondering whether they would need to haul water.2

Request for drought emergency declaration

Dozens of California lawmakers were urging Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama to declare a drought emergency and federal disaster in California as the water supply dwindled. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Democratic Rep. Jim Costa sent a letter to Gov. Brown on Dec. 9 and dozens of lawmakers sent a separate letter to the governor, encouraging him to act. 1 As of Jan. 10, a drought had not yet been officially declared in the state.

On Dec. 18, the governor of California called upon staff from state water, agriculture and emergency service agencies to form a drought task force and advise him on whether a statewide drought declaration was needed. The task force will meet weekly to assess the evolving drought situation and make recommendations about mitigatory steps.3

Fire danger in central coastal California

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Dec. 31 suspended burn permits in central California, due to dry conditions and a high number of wildfires for this time of year. Burn permit holders could not conduct burns in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.4 Cal Fire was also staffing extra crews and keeping the summer engines used for fighting fires in rough terrain on hand.5

Environmental effects

Low flows in the Sacramento River killed thousands of Chinook salmon eggs and newly hatched salmon in late 2013. Low flows were due to lower water releases from Shasta and Keswick dams and little contribution from the river’s tributaries. An environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated that 20 to 40 percent of the salmon nests were exposed when the river level fell in early November.6

Dry weather, fires and low winds allowed concentrations of soot, dust and other particulate matter in the Bay Area to climb above the federal health standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued the 11th consecutive “Spare the Air” alert on Dec. 18, setting a record for consecutive days with poor air quality.7


Water supplies

Prolonged drought continued to threaten water supplies and prevent their recovery in parts of Texas. Thirty-two cities or water suppliers in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas were under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions, due to low reservoirs. Three public water systems had emergency restrictions, indicating water supplies could be exhausted in 45 to 180 days.8

The Edwards Aquifer Authority in the San Antonio area returned to stage III water restrictions on Dec. 15 when the 10-day average of the J-17 monitoring well fell to 639.9 feet above sea level, just below the threshold for stage III in the San Antonio pool.9


Corn prices fell after the plentiful harvest in 2013, allowing ethanol producers to purchase cheaper corn and ramp up ethanol production. Numerous ethanol plants were idled from the end of 2012 through much of 2013 as high prices and short corn supplies reduced the profitability of producing ethanol.10

Hay supplies

Nebraska, Kansas

Hay supplies in Nebraska and Kansas in 2013 were more abundant and less expensive than in 2012, but supplies were still relatively tight and prices were still above five-year averages. Premium dairy-quality alfalfa was still expensive at $190 to $240 per ton, and less acreage was devoted to alfalfa in Kansas and Nebraska as growers opted to plant more corn and soybeans.11


Hay supplies have been low in Texas after years of drought, but hay growers near Waco, Texas, finally had a good hay season this fall. A Texas AgriLife extension agent noted that Bermuda grass production was down, presumably due to drought-stressed roots from past years. Hay prices were still somewhat high in Texas, and supplies were selling out quickly.12


1California lawmakers call for drought declaration; Lake Oroville only 39 percent full,” by Associated Press and Staff Reports, Chico Enterprise Record (Calif.), Dec. 11, 2013.

2California ranchers weigh options as dry spell lingers,” by Ching Lee, Central Valley Business Times (Stockton, Calif.), Dec. 4, 2013.

3Gov. convenes drought task force to help prepare,” by the Associated Press, Red Bluff Daily News Online (Calif.), Dec. 18, 2013.

4Cal Fire suspends burn permits due to dry weather,” by the Associated Press, The San Mateo Daily Journal (Calif.), Dec. 31, 2013.

5Dry weather prompts Cal Fire to increase staff,” by Calvin Men, Santa Cruz Sentinel (Calif.), Dec. 28, 2013.

6Industry News - Drought kills thousands of salmon eggs in the Sacramento River,” Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.), Dec. 12, 2013.

7Air pollution soars across Bay Area as fires, dry weather create perfect storm of smog,” by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Dec 17, 2013.

8 "Some drought effects declining,” by Mark Reagan, The Brownsville Herald (Texas), Dec. 15, 2013.

9 “Back to Stage III pumping limits for Edwards Aquifer,” by Drew Joseph, San Antonio Express-News, Dec. 17, 2013.

10Abundant 2013 corn harvest boosts ethanol production,” by Irene Olson and Sean Hill, U.S. Energy Information Administration (Washington, D.C.), Dec. 13, 2013.

11Shortfall from drought still affecting forage,” by Loretta Sorensen, Midwest Producer (Tekamah, Neb.), Dec. 10, 2013.

12Fall Weather Was Great For Making Hay In Parts Of Texas,” Hay & Forage Grower (Minneapolis, Minn.), Dec. 10, 2013.

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