Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

December 2014 Drought and Impact Summary

December brings welcome rain to Northern California, but much more is needed

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

Drought: Drought conditions showed a slight net improvement during December, with 28.68 percent of the contiguous U.S. in drought on Dec. 30, compared to 28.91 percent on Nov. 25, and with a peak of 30.05 percent on Dec. 16. Severe drought increased from 16.81 percent at the end of November to 16.93 percent at the end of December, peaking on Dec. 16 at 17.27 percent; extreme drought increased from 8.72 to 8.96 percent; and exceptional drought improved from 3.68 to 2.54 percent.

Temperature: In contrast with November, temperatures in December were normal to above normal across almost the entire United States. Most locations were 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with larger departures from normal temperatures in the Great Basin and upper Midwest. Even Alaska saw temperatures well above normal, by as much as 6-12 degrees in the interior and on the southern coast. Hawaii was an exception, with temperatures below normal, except on the Big Island.

Precipitation: The majority of the country had above-normal precipitation during December, with portions of northern California receiving up to 8 inches more than normal for the month. Areas of the Southeast also had departures of 2-6 inches above normal for December. The driest areas were in the southern Plains and the lower Mississippi Valley region, which got 2-4 inches below normal precipitation for the month. Most areas of Hawaii were drier than usual, in some cases by as much as 4 inches. Alaska had a mix of areas above and below normal, with the wettest areas along the southern coast and the driest areas along the southeast coast.

Outlook: The outlook for January shows that much of the drought in the western United States will persist. Drought may improve in central and northeast Texas and northeast Arkansas.

Regional Overviews


Temperatures for December were well above normal in the Northeast, with the entire region 2-4 degrees hotter than normal. The Northeast was on the wet side in December. The northern portions of the region and coastal areas recorded precipitation departures of 1.50-3.00 inches above normal. Most of the rest of the region recorded normal to slightly above-normal precipitation. Drought improved, with none remaining at the end of December, compared to 2.37 percent at the end of November.


Above-normal temperatures dominated the Southeast, with many areas 4-6 degrees warmer than usual. Precipitation was variable, with areas of the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama recording precipitation that was up to 5 inches above normal, and areas of south Florida and western North Carolina recording precipitation that was as much as 2 inches below normal. Drought conditions improved, with only 0.87 percent of the region in drought at the end of December compared to 3.47 percent at the end of November.

Movers & Shakers for December 2014
Percent area
Nov. 25, 2014
Percent area
Dec. 30, 2014
Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
14.40 moderate 3.86
Louisiana 2.70 10.88
moderate 8.18
21.74 extreme
22.05 25.73 severe 3.68
Biggest decreases in drought
12.61 3.77 moderate 8.84
California 55.08 32.21 exceptional 22.87
Connecticut 38.53 0.00 moderate 38.53
Georgia 3.51 0.00 moderate 3.51
Mississippi 11.63 6.89 moderate 4.74
New York
4.16 0.00 moderate 4.16
Oregon 53.55 49.29 severe 4.26
Rhode Island
79.03 0.00 moderate 79.03


Warmer-than-normal temperatures dominated the Midwest in December, with northern Minnesota as much as 8 degrees warmer than normal. Most areas were 4-6 degrees above normal. Precipitation was near normal in the Midwest. The central portion of the region was slightly dry, with departures of up to 1 inch below normal. There was no change in the overall drought status during December.

High Plains

Temperatures in December were above normal for almost the entire High Plains region, by as much as 8 degrees in portions of the Dakotas. An exception was an area spanning the eastern Colorado plains and Nebraska Panhandle that had normal to slightly below-normal temperatures in December. Precipitation was normal to slightly above normal over the Plains in December. Drought conditions were unchanged during the month, with 11.28 percent of the region in drought at the end of December, mainly confined to Colorado and Kansas.


Temperatures were above normal for the month in the Southern region, with the greatest departures over central Texas, where it was 4-6 degrees warmer than normal. The south was fairly dry in December with almost the entire region at or below normal for the month, with Eastern Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas as much as 4 inches below normal. Drought spread in December with 33.88 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 31.83 percent at the end of November. Severe drought increased from 16.57 to 18.43 percent, extreme drought increased from 7.24 to 8.80 percent, and exceptional drought increased from 1.97 to 2.36 percent of the region.


Precipitation was normal to slightly above normal for almost the entire western region, except for areas in northern California that received 6-8 inches more than normal precipitation for the month. Temperatures were above normal over almost the entire region, with the Great Basin 6-9 degrees warmer than normal for the month. The above-normal temperatures did not allow for snow accumulation to progress as expected in the winter months. Drought conditions improved slightly due to the rains along the West Coast. Drought covered 54.48 percent of the region at the end of December compared to 54.99 percent at the end of November. Severe drought improved from 33.88 to 33.50 percent, extreme drought improved from 18.75 to 18.68 percent and exceptional drought improved from 8.45 to 5.40 percent of the region.

Much more precipitation needed to alleviate long-term drought impacts in CA, TX

By Denise Gutzmer, Drought Impact Specialist

The charts above reflect what the Drought Impact Reporter shows for December 2014. California and Texas had the most reported impacts, with 55 and 20, respectively, which is partly a function of serious ongoing drought and partly related to their size and population. The most frequently reported types of impacts in both states dealt with water supply issues and government responses to drought.

The map of California Reservoir Conditions shows that water levels in most of the state's reservoirs were well below average as of early January. Water providers were also keeping a close eye on Snow Water Content, above. This is the replenishment season. The map at left from the Association of California Water Agencies provides information on responses to drought. Red dots are mandatory restrictions.

Texas reservoirs, above left, were 63.7% full as of Jan. 9, with western reservoirs notably drier than those in the eastern part of the state. About a quarter of Texas' community water systems had imposed restrictions as of Jan. 7. Orange squares represent mandatory restrictions and yellow circles, voluntary.

Map of the Upper Rio Grande Basin courtesy of New Mexico State University

Continued drought in the southern Plains and the West increased water concerns, despite plentiful precipitation in parts of California and Texas. Drought-weary Californians were jubilant as heavy rain finally poured down on sections of the state, triggering landslides, flooding and power outages. Although December 2014 was one of the wettest on record for some areas in California, it resulted in only slight easing of the long drought in northern California. Both California and Texas faced low water supplies after years of drought.


Snow survey and water allocations low but better than a year ago

The first manual snow survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack conducted by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Dec. 30 revealed that snow water content was a third of normal for that time of year. That was slightly less than the level reported by the 105 electronic sensors in the Sierra, which registered a snow water equivalent of 4.8 inches, exactly half of the multi-year average for Dec. 30. Manual readings help check the electronic data.

The Sierra snowpack usually yields enough water for about one-third of the state’s water needs.

The DWR announced an initial water allocation of 10 percent of contracted supplies for 2015, based on a favorable rain and snow forecast. The estimate could be revised downward if the precipitation does not materialize. Only 5 percent was delivered in 2014.

“Survey Finds More Snow in Mountains, but Water Content Is Still Far Below Average for Date,” California Department of Water Resources, Dec. 30, 2014
“California snow survey shows higher snowpack,”
by Kristin J. Bender, Associated Press, December 30, 2014
“California water officials see hope in 2015,”
by Associated Press, CBS2 / KCAL9 (Los Angeles), Dec. 1, 2014

U.S. House passed controversial California drought bill

A new California water bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was intended to increase irrigation deliveries south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, hasten planning for new dams and collect more storm runoff for human use. Democrats opposed the bill, saying some of the provisions would cause environmental harm and that the bill was a water grab. A broad-based statewide coalition of businesses, urban and rural residents, farmers, water districts and municipalities pushed Congress to pass the emergency legislation, but the bill did not make it through the Senate before the end of the 113th Congress.

 “Latest California drought bill causes new dust-up,” by Michael Doyle, McClatchyDC, (Washington, D.C.), Dec. 4, 2014
“Southern and Northern California Unite in Support Of the Emergency California Drought Relief Act of 2014 by Christmas,” PRWeb (Beltsville, Md.),Dec. 4, 2014
“H.R.5781 - California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2014,”, Jan. 8, 2015

Drought leads to agricultural losses, hunger among California farm workers

Drought resulted in 420,000 to 700,000 acres of fallowed land, estimated crop revenue losses of $810 million, a decline of $203 million in dairy and livestock value, and another $453 million in extra costs due to more well-pumping than usual.

Farm workers in the southern Central Valley continued to struggle to get by as agricultural employers cut jobs, due to drought, leading to hunger in an area where half of the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts are grown. Many laborers relied on charity to keep food on the table. Undocumented workers suffer most because they cannot get food stamps and other federal assistance. The ripple effects are felt by farm-related businesses as the regional economy shares the pain.

“California drought brings smaller harvests, more hunger among farmworkers,” by Lisa M. Kreiger, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Dec. 26, 2014

Sierra Nevada wildlife taking more risks for food and water

Deer, bears and other large animals in the Sierra Nevada have been struck by vehicles in greater numbers this year because drought and wildfires have driven them to areas with better food and water resources. Caltrans and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a public warning, urging drivers to be cautious and on the lookout for wildlife along roadways.

“Animal deaths spike on Sierra roads as drought hits habitat,” by Peter Fimrite, SFGate (San Francisco), Dec. 8, 2014

Western Region

Nevada bears invade human habitats

Bears in the Reno-Tahoe area caused more havoc than usual as drought drastically reduced their normal food and water resources, driving them to seek food in human-inhabited areas. In addition to diving into garbage, one bear sought entry to a bakery, and another crashed a hotel hors d’oeuvres table. During 2014, the Nevada Department of Wildlife caught and released 93 bears, an increase of 130 percent compared to 2009 and a 34 percent increase from ten years ago. In 2013, 97 bears were caught and released. The year of record bear activity was 2007 when 159 bears were captured amid drought.

 “Wild West: Drought drives bears into Reno-Tahoe area,” by Kyle Roerink, Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 24, 2014

Governors meet to keep water in Colorado River Basin flowing

Eight western governors met at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference to discuss regional water concerns as each state grasped at every last drop of water they had a right to take. Several states were planning new dams and diversions to collect water before it flowed into the Colorado River. The director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board announced that his state would not be sacrificing their water allotment to aid parched California, which was running low on water. Water managers from other states in the Colorado River Basin shared that sentiment.

Governors from Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming took part in the meeting. Officials with water agencies in Arizona, California and Nevada signed an agreement to try to protect Lake Mead from dwindling further. Lake Mead was about 40 percent full and just 10 feet above the trigger for the federal government to declare a shortage and start water rationing. The federal Bureau of Reclamation says rationing could happen as early as the spring of 2016 and is likely in 2017.

To boost water levels in the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead, $50 million from the $1 trillion budget newly passed by Congress will go toward helping the parched West through conservation programs. Forty million people rely on Lake Mead for water, and a lot of electricity is generated there and from Lake Powell.

“Water woes among topics for 8 governors in Vegas,” by Ken Ritter, Associated Press, Dec. 5, 2014
“Congressional session is finally over: So what was in it for Nevada?”
by Amber Phillips, Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 18, 2014
“States in Parched Southwest Take Steps to Bolster Lake Mead,” by Michael Wines, The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2014
“With future uncertain, Colorado shields its water,” by Dan Elliot, Associated Press, Dec. 9, 2014

Lake Mead tunnel completed

A three-mile tunnel 600 feet beneath Lake Mead was completed in December 2014 after nearly seven years of work. The project reached a third intake structure, which will allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority, serving Las Vegas, to draw water from an even lower part of the lake if the water level continues to fall. Coinciding with its announcement of the tunnel’s completion, the authority also proposed a plan to build a new $650 million pumping station to keep water flowing into the Las Vegas Valley in the event that Lake Mead dips below 1,000 feet.

“Tunnel reaches third straw at Lake Mead reservoir after seven years of digging,” by Conor Shine, Las Vegas Sun, Dec. 10, 2014

Excessive pumping and falling groundwater levels in the Upper Rio Grande Basin

Over-pumping by farmers and growing cities in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, which is in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, led to water table declines of up to 200 feet during the past decade in the border region. Unfortunately, the sharp drop in groundwater levels has occurred in a drought-affected region where the water table recharges too slowly to compensate for the heavy withdrawals.

“Water table drops as drought forces more pumping,” Associated Press, Dec. 25, 2014
(The Associated Press story is based on an in-depth investigative report by reporter Marty Schladen and photographer Mark Lambie of the El Paso Times that was funded by the Solutions Journalism Network.)


Water supplies threatened in Texas

  • Fifty-eight cities in Texas had an estimated 180 days’ worth of water left, as of early December.
  • The El Paso Water Utility has pumped more water than usual from the Hueco Bolson aquifer to replace water normally taken from the Rio Grande River. Such pumping was not a sustainable option.
  • Mineral Wells’ primary water source, Lake Palo Pinto, may be dry in the spring of 2015 without substantial inflows. Lake Palo Pinto was at 10 percent of capacity. A couple of nearby towns in Palo Pinto County, Gordon and Mingus, may be out of water by mid-February and were working to connect to well water in rural areas to the south.
  • Domestic wells in Buffalo Gap were going dry as drought persisted in the region.

“Water emergency in Mineral Wells,” by Sebastian Robertson, WFAA-TV ABC 8 Dallas, Dec. 2, 2014
“El Paso water bills to increase 8% under plan being voted on Wednesday,” by Vic Kolenc, El Paso Times (Texas), Dec. 8, 2014
“Drought forces Mineral Wells to seek new source of water,” by Bill Hanna, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas), Dec. 6, 2014
“Taylor County Drought Impacts Buffalo Gap Well Water Shortage,” by Mallory Coon, KTAB TV 32 & KRBC TV 9 (Abilene, Texas), Dec. 14, 2014


Oregon water shortage leads to crop loss

Three consecutive years of drought and meager snowfall in Eastern Oregon cost farmers tens of millions of dollars in lost or unplanted crops. Malheur County farmers served by the Owyhee Project began running out of water in July and were completely dry in August, two months earlier than normal, with water deliveries slashed from 4 acre-feet to 1.7 acre-feet. Water supplies for 2015 were not looking good because the Owyhee Project usually carries over 350,000 to 500,000 acre-feet of available storage, but only had 8,000 acre-feet to carry over this year, although additional precipitation brought it up to 30,000 acre-feet.

“Water worries multiply in Eastern Oregon,” by Sean Ellis, Capital Press (Salem, Ore.), Dec. 11, 2014

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