Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

February 2015 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought expands in February, shifts grip on West

By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


Drought spread to more of the contiguous United States in February. On Feb. 3, 28.44 percent of the area of the continental states was in drought, and on Feb. 24, 32.83 percent was in drought. Severe drought conditions changed from 16.04 to 16.42 percent, while extreme and exceptional drought conditions remained nearly unchanged, ending the month at 8.82 and 3.30 percent, respectively. About 76 million people were affected by drought at the end of the month, compared to 65.9 million at the beginning.  


During March, much of the western United States remains in drought, with little improvement predicted. Portions of central Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southwest Colorado may show improvements and even some elimination of drought. Drought is expected to expand in eastern Oklahoma, while drought improvements and possible removal can be expected over Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama.


The pattern of cooler-than-normal temperatures over the area east of the Rocky Mountains and warmer than normal to the west continued in February. West of the Continental Divide, temperatures were 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the month with some areas of the northern Rocky Mountains 10-15 degrees above normal. The Midwest, New England and Great Lakes regions were the coldest during the month, with temperatures as much as 15-20 degrees below normal.


Dry conditions over much of the West continued, including snow accumulation that remained well below normal. Some areas along the northern coasts of California and into Oregon received 2-4 inches more precipitation than normal in February. Areas of the Four Corners and Rocky Mountains also recorded slightly above-normal precipitation for the month. Dry conditions from east Texas into the Florida Panhandle were observed, with most areas 4 inches below normal for the month. Areas of the Tennessee Valley and the southeast coast were 2-3 inches wetter than normal for the month.

Regional Overviews

Movers & Shakers for February 2015

Percent area

Feb. 3, 2015

Percent area

Feb. 24, 2015

Status Percentage point change

Biggest increases in drought

1.63 17.22 moderate 15.59
Arizona 75.22 81.78 moderate 6.56
Colorado 21.43 51.46 moderate 30.03
Florida 0.63 6.80 moderate 6.17
Hawaii 46.63 50.33 moderate 3.70
Kansas 37.80 41.70 moderate 3.90
Louisiana 3.36 52.16 moderate 48.80
Mississippi 3.26 26.93 moderate 23.67
New Mexico

61.54 67.61 moderate 6.07
Oklahoma 45.34

48.46 severe


27.80 extreme 5.22
Texas 38.57 43.39 moderate 4.82
22.76 27.86 severe 5.10
11.24 14.34 extreme 3.10
Utah 60.65

95.07 moderate 34.42
12.51 17.85 severe 5.34
Washington 22.43 28.78 moderate 6.35
Wyoming 0.00 7.31 moderate 7.31
Biggest decreases in drought


23.78 19.99 moderate 3.79
California 77.46 67.46 extreme 10.00
Kentucky 23.35 8.84 moderate 14.51
Oregon 49.48 44.95 severe 4.53
Tennessee 22.52 5.69 moderate 16.83
Washington 5.96 0.00 severe 5.96


Cold temperatures dominated the Northeast in February. Most areas were 8-16 degrees below normal for the month. Along with the cold temperatures, dry conditions were also prevalent. Most areas were 0.50-1.50 inches below normal for the month. Drought was not a concern in the area and it remained drought-free going into March.


As with much of the East, the Southeast recorded temperatures well below normal for the month. Departures were 4-8 degrees below normal for February. Most areas also recorded below-normal precipitation, with deficits of 1-3 inches for the month, although portions of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, western Tennessee, and central Florida were slightly on the wet side. Drought expanded along the Gulf Coast, so February ended with 4.44 percent of the region in drought compared to 0.42 percent at the beginning of the month.


Below-normal temperatures continued into February, with most of the Midwest 4-12 degrees colder than normal for the month. Outside of Kentucky and Iowa, the area was slightly drier than normal. Drought is only affecting 1.69 percent of the region, compared to 3.16 percent at the beginning of the month. It is confined to small areas of Minnesota and Kentucky.

High Plains

The High Plains was a transitional zone between areas with temperatures below and above normal. The Missouri River was the general separator, with areas to the east colder than normal and areas to the west warmer than normal. For precipitation, areas of southeast Nebraska, central and eastern Colorado, central Wyoming, western North Dakota and western Kansas were slightly wetter than normal. Even with the areas of above-normal precipitation in Colorado, drought expanded in western Colorado. Drought expanded to cover 20.66 percent of the region in February compared to 12.49 percent at the start of the month.


Cooler-than-normal temperatures dominated the region in February with departures from normal generally of 3-9 degrees. The cooler-than-normal weather was also accompanied by drier-than-normal conditions. The Gulf Coast from East Texas to the Florida Panhandle received 3-4 inches less than normal precipitation. The dryness led to expansion of drought, with 40.23 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 32.70 percent at the beginning of the month. Severe drought increased from 18.18 to 20.98 percent, extreme drought increased from 8.68 to 10.95 percent, and exceptional drought increased from 2.18 to 3.02 percent.


Temperatures were above normal for the West in February, as has been the case for much of the last 24 months. Departures were greatest over Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Nevada, which were 9-12 degrees above normal in February. Many areas saw precipitation in February, with the greatest amounts recorded over northern California, southern Oregon and Montana. But dryness continued over much of California, with many areas of central and southern California 2-4 inches drier than normal for the month. Drought spread, with 59.91 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month, compared to 52.74 percent at the beginning. Overall, the proportion of the area in each category of drought stayed nearly the same during the month, although the areas themselves shifted.

CA, NM irrigators preparing for another dry year; TX, OK water suppliers working to balance demand and supply


This chart shows impacts color-coded by category for each of the eight most-affected states in February 2015, from the NDMC's Drought Impact Reporter.

 Impacts related to Water Supply & Quality and to Relief, Response & Restrictions each accounted for about a third of all impacts in February 2015.


This March 2 report from the California Department of Water Resources shows snowpack at 19% of average for the date, and 17% of average for April 1, normally the peak.

As of March 1, water levels in all but one of the reservoirs on this chart from DWR were below historic averages.


This time series from Water Data for Texas shows that monitored Texas reservoir levels were 65.8% full on March 2, near the historic minimum.

This map from Water Data for Texas shows that many reservoirs in the Panhandle and north-central parts of the state were very low in February 2015.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Another winter month passed without significant precipitation falling along much of the West Coast where it is desperately needed, virtually guaranteeing a summer of water shortages without the mountain snowpack to provide runoff and fill reservoirs. Many Central Texas reservoirs still have not recovered from years of drought. Of the 73 impacts entered into the Drought Impact Reporter in February, 48 were for California and 13 were for Texas, with 10 or fewer impacts for each of the other states.

Thin snowpack could spell another tough year for California crops

In California, with little of the wet winter season remaining, the thin snow layer points to another year of water shortages, fallowed fields, lost employment and reduced agricultural production, at an estimated cost of $3 billion, an increase from the $2.2 billion estimate for 2014, when federal and state water projects for the first time provided no water to the San Joaquin Valley.

California’s snowpack was very low, at 19 percent of average for March 2 and 17 percent of the April 1 average, a date when snowpack is generally at its deepest, according to the California Department of Water Resources. With so little snow, and consequently less runoff for summer use, state and federal water projects have offered just 20 percent and 0 percent of contracted amounts, respectively. The news was a nightmare for farmers who relied heavily on groundwater in 2014, with subsidence from over pumping in the San Joaquin Valley continuing to be a calamity in the making as wells run dry.  If significant snow falls, the allocations may be increased.

Scientific studies have linked groundwater pumping to land subsidence in California and other parts of the western U.S. Subsidence can cause fissures in the earth and can have a big effect on infrastructure such as dams, wells, pipelines, canals, bridges and storm sewers.

“2014 California drought was bad. 2015 will be worse,” by Jeff Daniels, CNBC, March 3, 2015

“Land subsidence from groundwater use in California,” by James W. Borchers and Michael Carpenter, California Water Foundation, April 2014.

California requiring proof of historic water rights

In early February, the State Water Resources Control Board ordered property owners collectively claiming 1,061 water rights within the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds to verify their rights to the amount of water they use or face curtailment. In July 2014, the California Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation claimed that south and central Delta diverters were taking more than their water rights allowed, prompting the SWRC to take this action. This situation is representative of the stress and conflict arising over water resources as they become scarcer.

“Central Valley, Delta water rights under scrutiny,” by Matt Weiser, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), March 1, 2015

“Order WR 2015-0002-DWR: Order for additional information in the matter of diversion of water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds,” California State Water Resources Control Board, Feb. 4, 2015

State Water Board at odds with San Joaquin Valley irrigators over north-south pumping

Another setback for agriculture occurred when California’s State Water Resources Control Board denied a request from the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to send more Sacramento River water south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The request had approval from state and federal wildlife and water agencies. The denial was termed “a stunning rebuke of common sense” by an elected official.  Some elected San Joaquin Valley leaders demanded that the SWRCB reverse its decision.

The Kern County Water Agency also expressed shock that the SWRCB approved only parts of the state and federal request. Water recipients from San Jose to San Diego may pump enough water from the State Water Project for minimum public health and safety requirements, but not for agriculture during February and March.

“An encore of Valley drought crisis — only worse,” by Mark Grossi, The Fresno Bee (Calif.), Feb. 14, 2015

 “Kern Water Agency accuses state of ignoring farmers’ water needs,” (Bakersfield, Calif.), Feb. 4, 2015

More Californians consider drought serious

Californians recognized the gravity of the unfolding disaster as the snow drought continued and they were more concerned than ever about the state’s water supply. Among the findings of a statewide poll:

  • Half of the 1,241 registered voters surveyed favored easing environmental regulations and 51 percent favored allowing the construction of water supply facilities in federal parkland.
  • Sixty-one percent of those surveyed favored voluntary conservation, while just 34 percent advocated mandatory rationing.
  • Ninety-four percent recognized the water situation as serious, and 68 percent termed the water shortage as “extremely serious.”
  • Forty-three percent did not think the state has enough water storage or supply facilities to meet public demand.
  • Just 48 percent of voters felt the storage and supply facilities were adequate to meet the state’s water needs.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

“Californians growing more concerned about drought, poll finds,” by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle (, Feb. 26, 2015

West Nile virus on the rise

Drought was blamed for a record number of West Nile virus cases in 2014, and 2015 is expected to bring more of the same. The mosquito count in Orange County traps in February was already hitting July levels. When the California drought began in 2012, the number of West Nile virus cases rose to 479 from 158 the previous year. In 2014, 798 cases were recorded, the highest number since 2005. Twenty-nine people died.

“California’s drought could mean another bad year for West Nile virus,” by Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Feb. 23, 2015

Thieves target valuable water

Many California cities are increasing fines for water thefts in the face of more such crimes. Thieves open fire hydrants, disregard or tinker with meters and fill trucks with water for dust control and other uses.

“Water thefts on the rise in drought-stricken California,” by Kristin J. Bender, Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Feb. 23, 2015

Ski resorts in Sierra Nevada closing without snow

Many ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada have closed, due to the lack of snow, although some areas around Lake Tahoe received up to 2 feet of snow at the end of February. Prior to that snowfall, skiers travelled to central Washington, Idaho and southern Montana for snowier runs. Two skicross and snowboardcross races were cancelled because the area had only about one-third of its usual snowfall through February.

The snowpack in parts of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Colorado was also thin.

“Drought in California Sends Skiers to Idaho, Washington,” by Martha Bellisle, (Idaho), Feb. 9, 2015

“Poor snow causes Squaw Valley to cancel March 4-8 FIS World Cup event,” by Kevin MacMillan, Tahoe Daily Tribune (Calif.), Feb. 14, 2015

“Warm, dry weather prompts access changes in Yellowstone,” by Mike Moore, West Yellowstone News (Mont.), Feb. 20, 2015

Many Texas reservoirs still low

While drought in Texas generally has been less intense than it has been in recent years, reservoirs have yet to recover and some reservoirs were lower in February 2014 than they were a year earlier. Statewide, reservoirs averaged 65.8 percent full on March 2, according to Water Data for Texas, with the lowest reservoirs located in a swath from the Panhandle and Wichita Falls area south to San Antonio and beyond.

In the Austin area, the Lower Colorado River Authority decreased its water supply projections by about 17 percent following the announcement that the drought affecting the Highlands Lakes was the worst the area has endured since the 1930s when the lakes were constructed. The inflow into the lakes was the second lowest ever recorded, leading the LCRA to describe the situation as a new “critical period.” But the LCRA general manager added that two of the Highland Lakes were significantly above their record lows, due to prudent water management on the part of LCRA customers.

“Despite rains, many reservoirs lower this year than last,” by Robert Burns, North Texas e-News (Bonham, Texas), Feb. 21, 2015

“LCRA reduces water supply projections as drought worsens,” KVUE-TV ABC Austin (Texas), Feb. 18, 2015

Rainbow trout off to an early start, before water levels get too low in western Nevada

In western Nevada, snowpack and water supplies were slim as exceptional drought sapped resources. As it did last year, the Nevada Department of Wildlife stocked the Truckee River with 7,000 rainbow trout earlier than normal, while there was still enough water in the river to support the fish. Lake Tahoe remained 2.5 inches below its natural rim, in spite of the recent storms that brought an inflow of roughly 16 billion gallons of water.

“Drought prompts early fish stocking again,” Reno Gazette-Journal (Nev.), Feb. 12, 2015

Drought affecting Arizona springs that nourish ecosystems

Low snowpack amid continuing drought dried up springs in Grand Canyon National Park and other parts of northern Arizona. As springs stop flowing, ecosystems that support 10 percent of endangered species native to the Southwest, among many other plants and wildlife, could perish.

“Drought, little snow leave Grand Canyon springs high and dry,” by Associated Press, Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz.), Feb. 21, 2015

New Mexico irrigators told to expect little water from Elephant Butte Irrigation District

Thin snowpack in New Mexico’s northern mountains suggested that water supplies will again be on the slim side, meaning low flow on the Pecos, Rio Grande and San Juan rivers. While the state’s large cities have enough water to get through 2015, reservoirs on the Rio Grande River were virtually empty, leaving farmers with little water. Farmers dependent on the Elephant Butte Irrigation District were cautioned that they may get less than 6 acre-inches or about one-sixth of a full allotment and to plan accordingly. The EBID delivered just 7.5 acre-inches in 2014, forcing growers to plant less acreage than usual. Some smaller-scale pecan farmers lost trees. Other farmers pumped water from wells, but area wells are notorious for saltiness.

“Water managers bracing for another dry year in NM,” by John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal (N.M.), Feb. 1, 2015

“Dim water year shapes up for Doña Ana County farmers,” Las Cruces Sun-News (N.M.), Feb. 5, 2015

Pipeline will give Oklahoma City more drought management options

As prolonged drought continued to diminish Oklahoma City’s water supply, city officials were working on a 29-mile pipeline to move water from the Lake Stanley Draper treatment plant to a booster station. The city’s northern reservoirs, lakes Hefner and Overholser, were low, and the pipeline will ease pressure on them when it is completed, providing water managers with more options during drought.

“Oklahoma City officials look to pipeline project to help mitigate drought,” by Silas Allen, Feb. 17, 2015


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