Monday, September 01, 2014

National Drought Mitigation Center

Western U.S. still in grips of drought in February 2014

 
The U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows areas where drought is likely to persist, develop, improve or disappear. Drought is slow-moving so persistence generally dominates.

The Seasonal Drought Outlook, issued Feb. 21 and valid through May 2014, is less optimistic than the monthly outlook regarding improvement along the West Coast, and shows more improvement in Nebraska and Kansas.

The U.S. Drought Monitor for Feb. 25, 2014, showed 36.08 percent of the contiguous United States in drought, compared with 37.38 percent on Feb. 4. But the areas in extreme and exceptional drought increased.

This U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map shows that in the four weeks ending Feb. 25, drought spread and intensified from California across the Southwest and Texas, but improved in the Northwest and Midwest.

Movers & Shakers for February 2014

State Percent area
Feb. 4, 2014
Percent  area Feb. 25, 2014
Status

Biggest Increases in Drought

Arizona 68.43
77.24 moderate
 36.10 57.20 severe
0.00  7.04  extreme
California 67.13  73.83 extreme
9.81 26.21 exceptional
Nebraska 48.03 51.95 moderate
New Mexico 48.44 64.05 severe
Oklahoma 46.74 62.41 moderate
Texas 51.68 67.88 moderate
22.34 33.55 severe
Washington 0.27 13.38 severe

Biggest Improvements in Drought

Idaho 71.96 53.09 moderate
46.71  32.92 severe
13.79 1.63 extreme
Illinois 22.14 9.31 moderate
Iowa 52.56 47.04 moderate
19.70 7.11 severe
Louisiana 48.07 5.68 moderate
6.20 0.00 severe
Missouri 20.76  8.13 moderate
Nevada 80.30 72.95 severe
38.17 33.94 extreme
 Oregon 100.00 94.07 moderate
76.51 52.62 severe
Washington 93.05 54.32 moderate
Wisconsin 23.10 9.04 moderate
Wyoming 6.08 0.17 moderate

by Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center Climatologist

Outlook

Drought outlooks through the end of May show that much of the drought in the western United States will remain. Conditions are likely to improve over Washington, northern Oregon and eastern Idaho. It is also likely that drought will develop in portions of Arizona, Texas, and California where there is no current drought. Although the intensity of drought should improve in areas of the West in March, especially along the coast and in the Pacific Northwest, the areas will probably remain in some degree of drought. Drought in the Plains will continue, with possible further development in the southern Plains, while drought will continue to improve in the Midwest.

Drought

The area in drought shrank slightly during February, with 36.08 percent of the contiguous United States in drought at the end of the month, compared to 37.38 percent at the beginning. But drought also intensified, as severe to exceptional drought increased from 20.84 to 21.54 percent, extreme to exceptional increased from 7.37 to 7.65 percent, and exceptional drought doubled from 0.88 to 1.76 percent, mainly in California.

Temperatures

Cold air continued to dominate much of the midsection of the country during February. The upper Midwest and northern Plains recorded the coldest temperatures for the month, as much as 12-15 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. The cold air reached into the southern Plains as well, with most of Texas and Oklahoma 5-8 degrees below normal. In contrast, much of the West, from California to western Colorado, had above-normal temperatures in February, generally by 3-6 degrees. Florida and portions of southern Georgia and South Carolina were also 3-6 degrees above normal for the month.

Precipitation

Precipitation was mixed, with some areas recording amounts well above normal and others recording little to no precipitation. The end of February brought much-needed precipitation to the Pacific Northwest and to portions of northern and central California. Some of these areas recorded 150-200 percent of normal precipitation for the month, which eased drought. Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Utah were very dry, with less than 5 percent of normal February precipitation. The central to northern Rocky Mountains continued with a wet winter. The Plains states were mainly dry in February with only a few areas of eastern Colorado and Wyoming and western Nebraska above normal. Much of the Midwest and areas to the east had normal or above-normal precipitation during the month. 

Regional Overviews

Northeast 

Cold air dominated the Northeast in February, where it was 6-8 degrees below normal in Pennsylvania and western New York and 2-4 degrees below normal over much of the rest of the region. Precipitation was greatest along the coast, from Maryland into New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, where up to 200 percent of normal precipitation was recorded. Almost the entire region was at or above normal for the month. The region’s drought status changed little in February. The only improvement was in areas designated abnormally dry.

Southeast

February was a mix of above-normal temperatures in Florida and below-normal temperatures further north. Florida and parts of Georgia and South Carolina recorded temperatures 3-6 degrees above normal, while areas of Alabama and Mississippi were 3-6 degrees below normal. Precipitation was mixed with some areas above and some below normal for the month. The greatest precipitation was recorded in northern Florida and southern Alabama and Mississippi, at 150-200 percent of normal. Drought continues to be a non-issue in the Southeast, with no drought areas and just a few spots designated abnormally dry.

Midwest

The cold winter continued in the Midwest, with most areas 10-14 degrees below normal for the month. Precipitation was greatest over Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, southern Michigan and most of eastern Minnesota. These areas recorded 150-200 percent of normal precipitation for February. Areas of western Minnesota and most of Missouri remained on the dry side, with only about 25 percent of normal precipitation. Drought conditions improved in the Midwest, with only 11.63 percent of the area in drought at the end of the month, compared to 17.82 percent at the beginning. Severe drought conditions improved in Iowa, leaving only 0.80 percent of the entire Midwest region in severe drought.

High Plains

February was a dry month for most of the High Plains, with most of the Dakotas, eastern Nebraska, southeast Kansas and central Wyoming receiving less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. Western Wyoming, western Nebraska, western Colorado and southeast Wyoming were the winners for precipitation, receiving more than double the normal for February, which mainly fell as snow. The region was cold in February with most areas 8-10 degrees below normal. Western Wyoming and Colorado were both 2-4 degrees above normal. With much of the region in a deep freeze, there was little change to the drought status in the area. Drought covered 23.03 percent of the High Plains at the end of February, with some minute improvements in moderate, severe, and extreme drought categories. At the end of the month, 2.79 percent of the region was in extreme drought.

South

The cold air did not miss the South. Most of the region had below-normal temperatures in February, by as much as 6-8 degrees through Oklahoma, north Texas and Arkansas, and 2-4 degrees further south. The region was dry in February. Most of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and northern Louisiana received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. Southern Louisiana was wet, with 110-130 percent of normal precipitation for the month. Even though the winter is typically fairly dry, drought worsened. February ended with 43.10 percent of the region in drought compared to 36.75 percent at the beginning of the month. Severe drought intensity worsened from 15.67 to 20.79 percent and extreme drought worsened from 5.70 to 6.51 percent.

West 

As has been the case for most of the winter, temperatures were above normal over much of the western United States in February. Most areas had temperatures 3-6 degrees above normal, except in Washington and northern Oregon, where temperatures were 3-6 degrees below normal. The northern portions of the western United States received some beneficial precipitation, especially at the end of the month. Most areas of northern California and Nevada and points north were above normal, recording 150-200 percent of normal precipitation. The opposite was true for the southern portions of the West.  Less than 50 percent of normal precipitation was common in Southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Some areas of southern Arizona, Southern California, and southern New Mexico received less than 2 percent of normal precipitation. The drought status of the western region improved overall in February with 59.61 percent of the region now in drought compared to 63.49 percent at the beginning of the month. The remaining drought areas intensified, with severe drought increasing from 39.68 to 40.34 percent, extreme drought increasing from 15.29 to 15.67 percent, and exceptional drought increasing from 1.94 to 4.12 percent.


California drought intensifies; Western U.S., Texas dealing with continued fire danger, environmental issues


The Drought Impact Reporter showed 101 impacts for February 2014, mostly in the West and mostly in California. 


California had 72 impacts in February, with Oregon, the next worst state, at 9 impacts. Besides drought severity, the number of impacts relates to a state's area and population. 

This graphic from the California Department of Water Resources shows that as of March 4, all the state's major reservoirs were well below their historic averages. 


Water stored in lake Mendocino ticked up to 49.5 percent of capacity after recent rains, not enough improvement to avoid water restrictions. From CA DWR. 


This chart from CA DWR shows allocations from the State Water Project through the 2013 water year, when only 35 percent of requests were fulfilled. Officials have announced the 2014 distribution will be zero, which hasn't happened before.
  Monitored Texas water supply reservoirs were 64.5 percent full on March 5. From Water Data for Texas.
  Water Data for Texas shows current levels for each reservoir. Reservoirs in northern and western Texas remain depleted as drought hangs on in the state.
  As of Feb. 26, 385 public water systems in Texas had imposed voluntary restrictions, and 751 had imposed mandatory restrictions.

by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

California remained on track for another year of a historic drought that has already curbed water supplies and brought a request from the governor for a 20 percent reduction in water use. The drought threatens to reduce agricultural production in a state that produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, driving up unemployment locally and food prices nationally. While a few storms brought precipitation in February, it was not nearly enough to compensate for years of below-normal precipitation.

California snow survey results underscore need to conserve

The California snowpack rose from 12 percent of average at the end of January to 24 percent of average for this time of year as of Feb. 27, and was growing deeper as more storms moved across the state. The runoff from the Sierra Nevada comprises one-third of California’s water supply. Bay Area water suppliers had imposed both voluntary and mandatory conservation measures in response to the anticipated ongoing shortfall.
California drought: Snowpack grows, but not enough,” by Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 28, 2014

State Water Project allocation at record low

Thin snowpack prompted the California Department of Water Resources to offer initial allocations of zero percent to all 29 public water agencies that usually get water from the State Water Project, a shortfall that has never before occurred in the project’s 54-year history.
State Water Project allocation cut to zero,” Central Valley Business Times (Stockton, Calif.), Jan. 31, 2014.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made its long-awaited water allocation announcement for the Central Valley Project on Feb. 21. Farmers in the CVP will get no water as the state endures its third dry winter, while communities and wildlife will get small amounts of water. In 2013, Central Valley farmers received 20 percent of contracted amounts.
California Farmers Won't Get Federal Water,” by Associated Press, ABC News (New York, N.Y.), Feb. 21, 2014.

Fallow acres could lead to $5 billion loss in California

Water shortages are forcing California farmers to fallow as many as 500,000 acres this year. The result will likely be a record production loss, amounting to about $5 billion in lost production and indirect effects through the region’s economy, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. Such an economic toll could jeopardize about 40 percent of all agricultural jobs in the Central Valley, equaling about 117,000 people employed in farm production, processing and transportation.
Drought forces California farmers to idle cropland,” by Reuters, Ag Professional (Northbrook, Ill.), Feb. 5, 2014.

USDA offers aid for California growers

To soften the blow of water shortages and impending economic losses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered California’s farmers and ranchers $20 million in aid for water conservation projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Services Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The aim is to upgrade irrigation methods, prevent erosion from unplanted fields and devise better ways to water livestock. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Natural Resources Conservation Service announced $14 million more in aid to improve water management and conservation.
USDA Offers Drought Funding For California Producers,” Farm Progress (St. Charles, Ill.), Feb. 4, 2014.
Feds announce another $14M for California drought,” by Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2014.

Local and state officials anticipate need for aid for the unemployed

Local and state officials were bracing for a wave of high unemployment in rural towns in California’s Central Valley as drought results in job losses. The Community Food Bank in Fresno was scoping out locations for handing out food in Mendota, Firebaugh and other small communities. During drought in 2009, unemployment rates were high in the Central Valley.
"California farmers brace for drought, unemployment,” by Scott Smith, Associated Press, Feb. 2, 2014.

Obama announced drought aid for California

President Obama on Feb. 14 announced financial assistance to help California get through the drought gripping the state. He offered $100 million in livestock-disaster assistance for California ranchers, $60 million for food banks to help families suffering financially due to drought, $5 million for conservation assistance in the worst-affected drought areas, $5 million for watershed protection and $3 million in emergency grants for rural communities with water shortages.
Obama Announces Aid for Drought-Stricken California,” by Norimitsu Onishi and Coral Davenport, The New York Times, Feb. 14, 2014.

Governor and Democratic leaders in California put forth, pass aid plan

The governor and Democratic leaders offered emergency drought legislation with $687.4 million to offer relief to thirsty communities, farmers who did not plant due to lack of water and unemployed farm workers.  The legislation passed on Feb. 27 and the governor signed it on March 1.
California drought: Gov. Jerry Brown proposes $687 million aid plan,” by Jessica Calefati and Josh Richman, Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, Feb. 19, 2014.

High bids for water in Kern County attested to desperation

The Buena Vista Water Storage District in Kern County received extremely high bids from local growers for 12,000 acre-feet of stored water put up for auction. The district received 50 bids, with the highest at $1,350 per acre-foot for 300 acre-feet. Nearly 20 of the bids offered $1,000 or more for each acre-foot, a testament to the growers’ desperation. The bids altogether showed a need for more than 63,000 acre-feet of water.
Thirsty growers bid sky-high for available water,” by Lois Henry, The Bakersfield Californian, Feb. 5, 2014.

Rains finally end 2013 fire season

The 2013 fire season never ended and continued into 2014, but February storms tamped down the fire danger, bringing an end to the 2013 fire season. In early February, Cal Fire hired another 15 firefighters in Cal Fire's Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, 14 in the Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, 12 in the Fresno-Kings Unit, and nearly two dozen firefighters in Tulare County. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 11, Cal Fire had responded to more than 500 wildfires that scorched more than 1,130 acres, compared to an average of 130 small wildfires for that time of year.
CAL FIRE Increases Firefighter Staffing in Central Valley,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Feb. 11, 2014.
California storms did little to ease drought conditions,” by Cindy Chang, Laura J. Nelson and Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2014.

Towns face water quantity and related quality concerns

Ten water systems in Mendocino, Kern, Tulare, Yuba, Nevada, Mariposa and Placer counties had less than 60 days’ worth of water remaining. In addition to raising supply concerns, state health officials said at a legislative hearing that as groundwater supplies become depleted, contaminants may become more concentrated when there is less water to dilute them.
Officials: Ten Communities At Risk of Running Out of Water in 60 Days,” by Amy Quinton, Capital Public Radio, Inc. (Sacramento, Calif.), Feb. 19, 2014.
Health experts warn of water contamination from California drought,” by Sharon Bernstein, Thomson Reuters Foundation (London), Feb. 19, 2014.

Ukiah Valley water users must conserve 50%

Water users in the Ukiah Valley – residents, businesses and farmers -- must cut their water use in half beginning in March as the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District strives to slow the water use from Lake Mendocino, which held 41.7 percent of capacity on Feb. 24. Heavy rains pushed it to 49.5 percent on March 6.
Mandatory 50% water cutbacks ordered by Russian River district,” by Glenda Anderson, The (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Press Democrat, Feb. 24, 2014.

While California has been receiving much of the media attention concerning drought, other parts of the country continued to deal with ongoing dryness and were struggling with water supplies, too.

U.S. cattle herd down, beef prices up

The nation’s cattle supply continued to shrink in 2013, contracting 2.2 percent to 87.7 million head, the smallest since 1951, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Drought dried up pastures, rangelands and water supplies. The shrinking cattle herd drove the average price of beef to a new high of $5.04 per pound.
Smallest U.S. Cattle Herd Since 1951,” by Dow Jones, Northern Ag Network (Billings, Mont.), Feb. 3, 2014.
Up in smoke: Less beef on the hoof boosts barbecue restaurants' costs,” by Lance Murray, Dallas Business Journal, Feb. 17, 2014.

Texas reservoirs low after persistent drought

Persistent drought in Texas after intense drought in 2011 has reduced the water stored in the state’s reservoirs to new lows for this time of year. State, regional and local officials are prioritizing use of the remaining water, seeking new water sources and rapidly constructing needed infrastructure before the next intense drought arrives.
Impacts of historic drought linger in Texas,” by Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Associated Press, AgWeb, Feb. 13, 2014.

Rice growers on the Lower Colorado River face a third year without water

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality dealt a blow to rice farmers on the Lower Colorado River by postponing a decision on trigger levels for releasing water from lakes Travis and Buchanan. This is the third straight year without water for rice growers.
Rice farmers dealt another blow in ongoing drought,” by David Yeomans, KXAN.com (Austin, Texas), Feb. 26, 2014.

Water utilities lose revenue

The Austin water utility lost $27 million in 2013 as water customers conserved—and paid for—less water. The utility expects to lose another $10 million in the first quarter of 2014 and will be raising rates to make up for the losses. Water conservation cost the Fort Worth water utility $11 million in 2013, while the Wichita Falls water utility lost $4.5 million in revenue.
As water usage drops, Austin officials weigh higher rates,” by Michael Theis, Austin Business Journal, Feb. 25, 2014.
Texans' Water Conservation Reward: Higher Rates,” by Neena Satija, The (Austin) Texas Tribune, Feb. 10, 2014.

Oregon wildfire increased

Wildfire activity in Oregon was exceptionally high as 18 fires burned roughly 916 acres through Jan. 28, compared to the 10-year average for the same time period of one fire charring 17 acres, according to the public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry. “It’s been a highly unusual January,” said Russ Lane, an assistant forester for ODF North Cascade District. “Really it’s just drought conditions — lack of rainfall and snowpack. … Our forest fuels (dry debris and dead logs) are just as dry as it would be in August.”
Fire managers ready for rain,” by Justin Much, StatesmanJournal.com (Salem, Ore.), Feb. 4, 2014.

Oregon governor declares drought emergencies

Gov. Kitzhaber declared drought emergencies in Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties in southern Oregon after the four county commissioners asked the governor for the declarations.
Gov. Kitzhaber Declares Drought Emergency In 4 Oregon Counties,” (Portland) Oregon Public Broadcasting, Feb. 14, 2014.

New Mexico irrigators looking at shortfall

Ongoing drought and poor snowpack in the southern Rocky Mountains left irrigators along the southern end of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico parched again this year with expectations of just 6 acre-inches of water.
Doña Ana County irrigators could get just 6 acre-inches of water in 2014,” by Diana Alba Soular, The Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News, Feb. 18, 2014.

New Mexico curbs fire-related activities

Intensifying drought was driving up the fire danger in New Mexico, prompting the state land commissioner to ban fireworks, open fires and smoking on state trust lands.
Fireworks, open fires, smoking banned on state trust lands,” Silver City (N.M.) Sun-News, Feb. 28, 2014.

Ruidoso warned of water shortage

Meager snowfall of just 20 inches near Ruidoso means that snowmelt may not even reach the village, likely leaving springs dry and rivers dwindling to a trickle, warned the Lincoln County Commission chairwoman. Average snowfall is 180 inches.
Commission chairman warns no snow runoff,” by Dianne Stallings, El Paso (Texas) Times, Feb. 27, 2014.

Nevada stocking fish earlier

The Nevada Department of Wildlife began stocking rivers, streams and lakes in western Nevada earlier than it has in the last 20 years, before water bodies became too depleted later in the season. A supervising fisheries biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife said that they needed to release the fish quickly or the NDW would be left with nowhere to put the 428,000 fish that are typically released between late March and October.
Drought conditions prompt earliest trout stocking in 20 years for Northern Nevada,” by Jeff DeLong, Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, Feb. 12, 2014.

BLM urged to manage wild horse population

The Bureau of Land Management should gather and sell excess wild horses as an emergency response to drought, said BLM Nevada’s three resource advisory councils. Drought, the expanding population of wild horses, poor range conditions and lack of long-term holding capacity have underscored the need to manage to achieve a sustainable wild horse population.
RAC recommends BLM sell excess horses,” by Dylan Woolf Harris, Elko (Nev.) Daily Free Press, Feb. 14, 2014.

Arizona wildfire threat increased

The warm, dry winter in southern Arizona has southeastern Arizona primed for wildfires, according to national forest and parks officials. The Coronado National Forest has already seen two wildfires that charred 3.5 acres, and portends an aggressive fire season this year because forest fuels are very dry, and the forest does not usually see many winter fires.
Dry winter brings wildfire fears in S. Arizona,” by Douglas Kreutz, (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 10, 2014.

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