Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

February 2016 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought and Climate for February 2016: Drought persists in West; moderate drought expands over Hawaii

Access the latest monthly drought outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The two maps above are from the High Plains Regional Climate Center.
Find these and other products related to the U.S. Drought Monitor on the USDM website.

By Deborah Bathke, NDMC Climatologist


By the end of February, most of the drought in the United States continued to be located in the western half of the country. Above-normal precipitation in New England alleviated the few areas of moderate drought and many of the abnormally dry regions that were present at the end of January.   Conditions west of the Mississippi saw increased drought severity in western Montana, south-central Oregon, and northern Wyoming.  Additionally, isolated abnormally dry areas developed across North Dakota and the south central United States.  February ended with 14.3 percent of the contiguous United States experiencing moderate drought conditions or worse compared to 15.5 percent at the end of January.  Categorical changes were also relatively small.  Moderate drought improved from 15.48 to 14.30 percent, severe drought improved from 8.51 to 7.77 percent, extreme drought improved from 4.61 to 4.05 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 2.29 to 2.15 percent of the contiguous United States. Conditions in Alaska remained relatively unchanged. The strong El Niño continued in the Pacific, causing drier than normal conditions in Hawaii and a deterioration in drought conditions on the Big Island, with moderate drought now expanding across much of the island.  Puerto Rico saw improvement with the removal of extreme drought conditions and a reduction in moderate drought.  The number of people being affected by drought dropped from nearly 46.9 million at the end of January to about 43.3 million at the end of February.

Drought Outlook

During March, drought conditions are expected to persist over much of the West, with some removal of drought in northern California and Oregon.  Drought will continue to develop over Hawaii.


February temperatures were warmer than normal over most of the United States, especially in the northern Great Plains, where it was 9-15 degrees warmer than normal. Temperatures about 3 degrees cooler than normal were observed over parts of the Southeast and Intermountain West.


In February, normal to near-normal conditions dominated much of the central and western United States, with patches of 0-2 inches above- or below-normal precipitation scattered across the region. Dry conditions continued along the coast and in northern California, with some areas receiving 6-10 inches below normal.  Eastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri also experienced drier than normal conditions.  Much of the east received above-normal precipitation.  Notably, parts of North Carolina and Washington received 4-8 inches above normal.


Regional Overviews


Average temperature departures in February ranged from more than 4 degrees above normal in parts of northern New England to up to slightly below normal in parts of West Virginia. All states had above normal precipitation, which alleviated the drought areas that were present in the region at the end of January.


Temperatures ranged from slightly below average to slightly above average across the Southeast region. Some parts of Georgia and Alabama recorded temperatures up to 6 degrees above normal.  Precipitation in the southeast region ranged from slightly below normal to significantly above normal.  Pockets of localized below-normal precipitation occurred in all states within the region. The greatest departure of more than 6 inches above normal occurred in coastal North Carolina.  Drought conditions were not observed across the Southeast region during February.

Movers & Shakers for February 2016

Percent area Feb. 2, 2016

Percent area Mar. 1, 2016 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Hawaii 19.23 54.4 Moderate 35.17
Hawaii 0 6.49 Moderate 6.49
Biggest improvements in drought
California 86.13 82.66 Moderate 3.74
 Severe 3.10
Connecticut 29.76
Moderate 29.76
Idaho 58.22 52.72 Moderate 5.50
3.45 0 Moderate 3.45
Massachusetts 20.63 0 Moderate 20.63
Montana 29.73 24.95 Moderate
14.46 8.69 Severe 5.77
3.54 0 Extreme 3.54
Nevada 71.74 62.63 Moderate 9.11
40.76 37.11 Extreme 3.65
New Hampshire 14.88 0 Moderate 14.88
Oregon 74.69 62.92 Moderate 11.77
 40.94 33.96  Severe 6.98
 4.32 0  Extreme 4.32
Puerto Rico  41.71 18.83
 Moderate 22.88
 14.29 4.97  Severe 9.32
 Extreme 4.92


Temperatures in the Midwest were 0-6 degrees above normal.  The largest departures were in western Minnesota at 6-9 degrees above normal. Precipitation in the Midwest ranged from slightly above to slightly below normal. No areas were experiencing drought conditions at the end of February.

High Plains

All states within the High Plains region had temperatures of at least 3 degrees above normal.  The greatest departures, 9-12 degrees above normal, occurred in the Dakotas.  Precipitation was slightly above to slightly below normal across the region. Drought continues to be minimal over the region with just a few pockets of moderate drought over North Dakota and Colorado, covering less than 4 percent of the region.


Temperatures were generally warmer than normal over the South with departures of up 6-9 degrees above normal in parts of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle.  Conditions were drier than normal for most of the western part of the region with departures of up to 4 inches over east Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.  Wetter than normal conditions occurred in parts of Mississippi and most of Tennessee. Drought is not an issue in the region, with less than 1 percent of the region in moderate drought.


Temperatures in the West ranged from 6-9 degrees below normal in parts of the Great Basin to 9-15 degrees above normal in Wyoming and Montana.  Precipitation departures also included both above- and below-normal totals.  The greatest negative departures were over California, where precipitation was more than 8 inches below normal in the northern part of the state.  The largest positive departures occurred in eastern Washington and near the Four Corners region of New Mexico, where precipitation increases were more than 4 inches above normal.  Drought conditions in the West continued to slowly improve.  Drought now impacts 35.79 percent of the region compared to 38.45 percent at the end of January.  Severe drought improved from 21.59 to 19.70 percent, extreme drought improved from 11.69 to 10.28 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 5.81 to 5.55 percent of the region.





February 2016 impact summary: Water supply and quality issues continue to be a concern

The two charts above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.
The two charts above summarize information from the California Department of Water Resources Water Conditions page.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

The El Niño weather pattern did not bring the hoped-for abundant stream of winter storms in February, leaving California in need of more snow to douse the four-year drought.  Parts of the southwestern United States saw little precipitation in February, as patches of abnormal dryness intensified from Arizona to Texas, while portions of the Northwest and Northeast received some rain, easing drought in those areas.  Thirty-one of the forty-six impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter in February documented many ongoing water supply and quality issues, as well as matters of relief, response and restrictions.  Texas and Hawaii garnered the second and third most impacts, with eight and three, respectively.

February not good to Sierra Nevada snowpack

The warm, dry February took a toll on the existing snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, leaving it at 83 percent of average on March 1, a disappointment after the storms and high hopes of January.  Although December, January and February are typically the state’s wettest months, “March Miracles” have significantly deepened the snowpack and could again this year with the help of El Niño.

“Dry spell ate away at snowpack of drought-ridden California,” by Associated Press, Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.), March 1, 2016

Water conservation in California slows in January

Water conservation in California slipped further to 17.1 percent in January, while overall conservation since June 2015 dipped to 24.8 percent, just below the governor’s end-of-February savings goal of 25 percent. Even though conservation was down in January, California residences used an average of 61 gallons per person per day, setting a new record, and beating December’s per capita daily water use of 67 gallons.

“California falls below water-saving goal; some Orange County water districts still struggling,”Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.), Feb. 25, 2016

California water board eased water conservation mandates to 23 percent

Although dozens of leaders of California water agencies asked Governor Jerry Brown’s administration to ease the water conservation mandates, the State Water Resources Control Board voted for modest adjustments, giving relief to hot areas like the Southern California desert and the Central Valley, but offering no relief for most Bay Area cities, Los Angeles and San Diego through May.  Whereas the previous drought rules required a savings of 25 percent compared to water use in 2013, the modified rules require conservation of 23 percent compared to 2013. 

“California refuses pleas for major weakening of water conservation rules,” by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Feb. 3, 2016

Water conservation leads to unintended consequences in California

Water conservation continues to be essential as California enters its fifth year of drought, and water savings of 25 percent, as mandated by Governor Jerry Brown, is the order of the day. The dire need for water conservation has resulted in some unfortunate and unintended consequences. 

  • Trees have gone unwatered, which has killed millions of them statewide. Stressed and wilting from water loss, numerous redwoods, oaks, magnolias and other species of trees have been losing leaves and limbs.
  • Water utilities have lost more than half a billion dollars in just the last eight months as customers conserved water, according to the state water board. The loss will likely lead to water rate increases as some districts work to bolster revenue. 
  • Sewer lines were emitting foul odors and were corroding inside.  The pipes were designed to carry away solid waste using about 120 gallons per household per day, but have only had a flow of about 50 gallons, leaving solids sitting in pipes. As the material lingers, it gives off hydrogen sulfide and corrodes the pipes.
  • Federal taxes must be paid on turf replacement rebates.  Many Californians dutifully replaced lawns with drought-tolerant foliage, earning rebates from their water districts, but were not forewarned that the IRS would tax the rebates as income. Through February, the state has handed out $22 million in rebates, and the Metropolitan Water District gave out $340 million.

“California’s drive to save water is killing trees, hurting utilities and raising taxes,” by Darryl Fears, The Washington Post (D.C.), Feb. 27, 2016

California groups to use more prescribed fires to protect state's forests, watersheds and communities

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal and state agencies and environmental groups signed an agreement committing to an increased use of prescribed fires to improve the health of California’s forests and watersheds and to minimize the devastation caused by massive wildfires.

“Agencies, environmental groups partner to limit wildfire damage via controlled blazes,” Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.), Feb. 2, 2016

Crops need moisture; fire danger rising in Texas

Dryness was beginning to affect agricultural endeavors in Texas.  Winter forages and small grains in the Rolling Plains and West Central Texas were stressed by a lack of moisture, while some farmers in Southwest Texas were waiting for rain before planting corn.  In Austin and several other areas, the fire danger had risen to the point that county commissioners were considering burn bans to reduce the likelihood of fires.

“Texas Crop Report,” Austin American-Statesman (Texas), Feb. 23, 2016

“Wildfire risk elevated to very high in Austin area, Hill Country,” by Marty Toohey, Austin American-Statesman (Texas), Feb. 8, 2016

Water supplies a concern for Hawaii's Big Island

El Niño brought very dry conditions to the Big Islands this winter, leaving Hawaiians relying on rainwater catchment tanks, carrying water home in plastic jugs or paying to have water delivered.  A water hauler from Keaau noted that they have seen an “extreme hike in business” with the dry winter and empty rainwater catchment tanks.

The coffee crop remained largely dormant because of the dry weather, with just one significant flowering when orchards should have had two to three blooms.  A  Holualoa coffee farmer expected a reduced crop if the dry spell continued.  A banana grower in Hilo reported that her fruits were not developing properly because of the lack of rainfall.

Water conservation of 10 percent was recommended for the communities of Honalo, Kealakekua and Waimea on the Big Island.

 “Drying out: Arid conditions expected to last through spring,” by Kirsten Johnson, (Hilo) Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Feb. 28, 2016

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