Sunday, May 27, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Climate for February 2018: Drought expands, persists in Southwest and southern Plains

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 Curtis Riganti, NDMC Climatologist


Drought formed, persisted, or intensified over much of the southwestern United States and the southern Plains, leaving parts of western Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah in extreme drought at the end of the month. Conditions markedly improved in the Midwest, Ozarks, mid-South, northern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. As February came to a close, moderate and severe drought coverage had dropped from 38.42 to 31.3 percent and 17.21 to 14.31 percent, respectively, while extreme drought coverage slightly increased from 1.72 to 3.22 percent.

Drought Outlook

During March, drought improvement or removal is forecast in the mid-Mississippi Valley and Ozarks, as well as in parts of eastern Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and western Georgia. Meanwhile, drought development is likely in much of the Florida Peninsula, southeastern Georgia, and southern South Carolina. Drought persistence is forecast in much of Kansas, roughly the western two-thirds of Texas, western Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern California, much of Colorado, most of Utah (except for the Salt Lake region, which is forecasted to see drought removal), southeastern Oregon, and parts of the Dakotas. Drought removal or improvement is likely in northeastern Montana and far western North Dakota and adjacent northwestern South Dakota.


Warm conditions were prevalent in the eastern United States, with the warmest conditions being found in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina where temperatures were 5 to 15 degrees above normal. Cooler conditions prevailed in the central and northern Great Plains, with the coldest conditions taking place in Montana, northeastern Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Temperatures were as much as 10 to 20 degrees below normal in parts of Montana, Wyoming, and the western Dakotas. More moderate conditions were common across the rest of the continental United States.


Precipitation during February varied widely over the continental United States, with a few areas of extremes. Drought conditions improved or were completely removed over much of the Midwest, mid-South, and Ozark regions as several major precipitation events occurred in these areas, with some locales receiving record precipitation amounts for February. Unusually wet conditions also were prevalent in the Ohio Valley into parts of the Northeast. Meanwhile, the southern high plains of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado remained anomalously dry, as did much of California. 

Regional Overviews


During February, well above normal precipitation occurred in much of the southern two-thirds of Pennsylvania, in West Virginia and New Jersey, and in parts of lower New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The above-normal precipitation led to the removal of moderate drought in eastern Pennsylvania. Above-normal precipitation also fell in parts of Maryland, allowing for most of the moderate and severe drought conditions to improve, such that only a small area of Maryland remained in moderate drought at the end of the month. Most of northern New England received around 50 percent of normal precipitation in February. The entire region was warmer than normal over the course of the month. The warm conditions ranged mostly from 4 to 8 degrees F above normal for February. At the end of February, 0.18 percent of the Northeast was in moderate drought, down from 5.27 percent at the beginning of February. The 0.58 percent of the Northeast that was in severe drought at the beginning of February improved.


Precipitation departures varied widely in the Southeast in February. Dry conditions prevailed in the Florida Peninsula, southeastern Georgia, and lower South and North Carolina and Virginia. Meanwhile, the Florida and Alabama Gulf coasts and the northwestern portions of Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia were mostly wetter than normal. A swath from south-central Alabama to central Georgia remained in a drier pattern in February, allowing for drought to persist and expand farther east through central Georgia. All of the Southeast region experienced above-normal temperatures during February. For the most part, the above-normal precipitation fell in areas that had previously been experiencing drought conditions, leading to widespread improvements in Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle. Central, northern, and southeastern Alabama experienced widespread 2- to 4-category improvements, as did southwestern Georgia, the central and western Florida Panhandle, and the Alabama Gulf coast. Widespread 1- to 2-category improvements occurred in northern Georgia, while 1-category and spotty 2-category improvements occurred in the Carolinas and Virginia. At the end of February, moderate drought covered 12.52 percent of the Southeast, down from 39.45 percent at the beginning of the month. The 17.39 percent of severe drought and 0.49 percent of extreme drought were removed during February.

Movers & Shakers for February 2018

Percent area January 30, 2018

Percent area February 27, 2018 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Arizona 64.27 73.22 Severe 8.95
California 43.72 47.87 Moderate 4.15
4.92 19.98 Severe 15.06
Colorado 29.21 33.51 Severe 4.30
0 7.62 Extreme 7.62
Kansas 65.29 73.49 Moderate 8.20
29.07 34.44 Severe 5.37
4.30 9.50 Extreme 5.20
Minnesota 1.37 4.41 Moderate 3.04
New Mexico 94.13 99.51 Moderate 5.48
68.03 77.99 Severe 9.96
0.27 5.23 Extreme 4.96
North Dakota 60.98 64.73 Moderate 3.75
Oklahoma 21.11 32.91 Extreme 11.80
Oregon 11.00 38.32 Moderate 27.32
South Dakota 52.75 56.73 Moderate 3.98
Texas 7.30 11.47 Extreme 4.17
Utah 47.53 51.65 Severe 4.12
0 12.72 Extreme 12.72
Biggest improvements in drought
Alabama 86.9 20.68 Modereate 66.22
46.37 0 Severe 46.37
Arkansas 66.87 1.91 Moderate 64.96
30.98 0 Severe 30.98
Colorado 75.90 70.89 Moderate 5.01
Florida 22.48 6.60 Moderate 15.88
20.55 0 Severe 20.55
Georgia 50.48 26.88 Moderate 23.60
22.51 0 Severe 22.51
Hawaii 4.31 0 Moderate 4.31
Illinois 16.98 0 Moderate 16.98
Iowa 15.23 10.04 Moderate 5.19
Louisiana 41.35 0 Moderate 41.35
28.45 0 Severe 28.45
Maryland 44.78 3.10 Moderate 41.68
11.37 0 Severe 11.37
Mississippi 39.43 0 Moderate 39.43
18.14 0 Severe 18.14
Missouri 53.59 16.22 Moderate 45.77
23.68 0 Severe 23.68
Montana 28.19 14.60 Moderate 13.59
14.49 6.11 Severe 8.38
Nebraska 4.38 0.20 Moderate 4.18
North Carolina 13.38 1.64 Moderate 11.74
Oklahoma 99.76 66.20 Moderate 33.56
81.45 43.87 Severe 37.58
Pennsylvania 13.79 0 Moderate 13.79
Tennessee 22.85 0.18 Moderate 22.67
Virginia 48.58 12.31 Moderate 36.27


Drought conditions varied across the South during February; generally, drought persisted or intensified (with interspersed 1-category improvements) in the western halves of Texas and Oklahoma, while major improvements occurred in northern Louisiana, southeastern Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, and Arkansas. Very dry conditions continued in most of western Oklahoma and in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, where some locations are experiencing some of their driest 5-month periods on record. Meanwhile, multiple waves of moderate to heavy precipitation occurred generally along and east of the Interstate 35 corridor, with 150-300 percent of normal monthly precipitation or greater falling in parts of southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, northwestern Mississippi, and Tennessee during February. Temperatures were near or below normal in most of Oklahoma and northern Texas, while temperatures were 3 to 9 degrees above normal in parts of southern Texas. Conditions in Arkansas were generally near normal or 3 to 6 degrees above normal. More significant warmth occurred in southeastern Texas and much of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, where temperatures were generally 6 to 12 degrees warmer than normal in February. At the end of the month, 36.9 percent of the South was in moderate drought, 16.97 percent in severe drought, and 10.17 percent in extreme drought, with the vast majority of these drought areas being in Oklahoma and Texas. These percentages were down from 57.69 percent moderate drought, 29.36 percent severe drought, and 6.74 percent extreme drought at the beginning of February.


During February, most of the region received above-normal precipitation, with a few exceptions in parts of northwestern Missouri, southwestern Iowa, and the western Michigan Upper Peninsula. From south-central Michigan to southwestern Missouri, 150 to 300 percent or more of average February precipitation fell, leading to widespread significant drought improvements in Missouri and Illinois. One area of west-central Minnesota saw degradation to moderate drought. Much of the precipitation that deluged the Midwest in the form of rain or frozen precipitation occurred during the last two weeks of the month, as several storm systems interacted with slow-moving cold fronts during this period. A northwest to southeast gradient in temperature anomalies existed during February, with the warmest conditions (6- to 10-degree warm anomalies) occurring in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky; 4- to 10-degree cool anomalies taking place in Minnesota, northwestern Iowa, and northwestern Wisconsin; and more moderate conditions in between. At the end of February, moderate drought covered 4.15 percent of the Midwest, down from 12.52 percent at the beginning of the month. The 3.44 percent of severe drought and 0.18 percent of extreme drought were removed during February.

High Plains

In February, changes in drought conditions varied across the High Plains. Well below normal precipitation continued in much of Kansas (except for southeastern Kansas), particularly in southwestern Kansas where less than 5 percent of normal February precipitation fell in some spots. Above-normal precipitation fell in parts of the western Dakotas and northern Wyoming, as well as parts of eastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota. Temperatures during the period were generally near or below normal, with well below normal temperatures (cold anomalies of 10 degrees or more) being found in the western Dakotas and northern Wyoming. Southwestern Wyoming and western Colorado had isolated areas with 5- to 10-degree warm anomalies during February. During February, moderate drought coverage slightly increased from 43.93 percent to 44.54 percent, severe drought coverage slightly increased from 13.7 to 15.45 percent, and extreme drought coverage slightly increased from 0.69 to 3.09 percent.


Drought intensified and expanded during February in parts of the West, notably in the Sierra Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon. Dry conditions continued in California, with many areas receiving less than 25 percent of their annual February precipitation; well below normal snowfall also continued to plague the Sierra Nevada through the month. Below-normal precipitation also occurred in much of Oregon, southern Idaho, parts of Utah, western Arizona, and northeastern and northwestern New Mexico. Wet conditions prevailed in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, and in the Seattle area, much of Montana, and northern Idaho. Colder than normal temperatures were predominant in Montana and northeastern Wyoming, where temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees below normal were found. Elsewhere, temperatures were generally within 5 degrees of normal, except for some 5- to 10-degree warm departures in northern Utah and southern Idaho. During February, moderate drought coverage slightly increased from 44.29 to 45.57 percent, severe drought coverage slightly increased from 21.57 to 25.09 percent, and extreme drought coverage increased from 0.88 to 3.01 percent.



February 2018 impact summary: Agricultural producers in Southwest expressing concern about drought

The two charts above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

February was a dry month for parts of the United States, with drought expanding in parts of the southern Plains and farther west, but improving in the Lower Mississippi Valley and to the east.  The Drought Impact Reporter recorded 152 impacts in February, with 36 of those for New Mexico, 28 for Texas and 25 for California as drought continued or intensified in those areas.   At least 82 impacts were from Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) network observers. 

Dry winter leaving farmers uneasy

Many farmers were anxious about drought, given the extent of drought in the United States toward the end of February and the fact that some areas had not seen significant precipitation in quite a while.  Some feared that the potential for drought could be worse than that seen in 2012, when the nation endured the worst drought since the Dust Bowl.

Widespread Drought Across US Stoking Fears That 2012's Devastation Will Repeat, by Madelyn Beck, Harvest Public Media (Kansas City), Feb. 26, 2018

Poor snowfall noted in West

The winter season resulted in below-normal snowfall in the western United States, limiting visits to ski resorts and leading recreationists to find alternatives to the typical snow-related activities.  The lack of snow put the average inflow to Lake Powell on the Colorado River at 47 percent of average, according to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, making this the seventh-worst forecast for the lake in 54 years.

Water forecast is bleak for major reservoir in Southwest US, by Dan Elliot, The Associated Press, Fox News (Los Angeles), Feb. 7, 2018

New Mexico

The dry winter, leaving much of New Mexico in moderate to extreme drought, has farmers and ranchers very concerned about the upcoming growing season.  Because of the lack of precipitation, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began diverting water for irrigation in Socorro and Valencia counties 10 days early, while the Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico was estimating a water allotment of just 8 inches.  The state office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency was getting ready to make emergency funds available to help ranchers buy forage for livestock, in the event that is needed.  Foreseeing insufficient feed supplies, many New Mexico ranchers were eagerly looking to purchase alfalfa to supplement cattle feed supplies, while some ranchers from Sandoval County to Lincoln County were already selling cattle.

Ski areas in New Mexico continued to suffer during the dry winter, with resorts only opening a few runs, if they opened at all. For instance, Ski Apache, near Ruidoso, has recorded just 24 inches of snow more than halfway through the ski season, which is far below the 300 inches received during the 2010 season, according to the director of operations for the resort. Despite being able to make artificial snow, the ski area only has six of fifty-four lanes open for use.

Drought forces painful choices for New Mexico ranchers, by Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press, KOB-TV NBC 4 (Albuquerque), Feb. 22, 2018

Once again, a summer of drought looms on horizon, by Ollie Reed Jr., Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 23, 2018

Ruidoso business owners struggle to stay afloat: 'We haven't had a winter’, by Kate Bieri, KVIA-TV (El Paso, Texas), Feb. 8, 2018


The drought conditions were a concern to Texas farmers and ranchers, who were thinking back to recent years of drought and wondering if cattle sales would become necessary.  Conditions varied across the state, with the lack of moisture in the Panhandle severely straining cattle in wheat pastures. Stocker cattle were removed from the wheat and transported to feed yards and other places with adequate forage production. Wheat fields and rangelands in West Central Texas suffered from moisture stress and looked poor as the region endured roughly four months without measureable moisture.  Livestock were being sold, given the dry conditions and the need for supplemental feeding.  In Central Texas, most dryland small grain crops were in poor condition or worse, with some crops dead.

Texas ranchers worried about drought conditions heading into spring, by Rosie Newberry, KXAN-TV NBC 36 Austin (Texas), Feb. 15, 2018

Texas Crop and Weather Report – Feb. 27, 2018, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), Feb. 27, 2018


While drought appeared to be returning to California as the state endured a dry winter, the most recent snow survey at Phillips Station in El Dorado County revealed a snowpack of 39 percent of average after an early March storm boosted the snowpack from 7 percent of average.  Statewide, the snow water content increased from 22 percent of average to 37 percent.

Even after storm, California’s Sierra snowpack at 37 percent of average, by Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 5, 2018

With the dry winter, the State Water Resources Control Board began considering permanent water restrictions, including regulations that would make seven particular wasteful water practices a crime, including activities such as overwatering lawns and irrigating street medians.  The decision on the regulations was anticipated to occur at a February 20 meeting, but representatives from water districts and other users expressed fears that long-held water rights might be eroded.  The final decision on permanent water restrictions will occur at an April 17 meeting.

California’s drought restrictions on wasteful water habits could be coming back — this time they’ll be permanent, by Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune (Calif.), Feb. 12, 2018

Some fear California drought cuts could erase water rights, by Jonathan J. Cooper, The Associated Press, Capital Press - Agriculture Weekly (Salem, Oregon), Feb. 21, 2018

Numerous ski areas had closed their doors by mid-February for lack of snow in California, such as Royal Gorge, Tahoe Donner, TahoeXC and other Nordic trails.  Recreationists were able to engage in fat tire biking instead of skiing.

Dry, hot California winter closes ski resorts, stalls wildflower blooms and revives drought fears, by Paige St. John, Rong-Gong Lin II and Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 13, 2018


Since the winter brought below-average snowfall to Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey and fire officials were anticipating a bad fire season. The governor asked the Legislature to increase funding for fire prevention efforts from an annual figure of $1 million to $2 million.  The additional funds were to be used to remove brush and other fuels since drought has dramatically increased the fire danger.

Governor Ducey says drought requires more wildfire prevention cash, by The Associated Press, KVOA-TV NBC 4 Tucson, Feb. 8, 2018

The arid winter led the Navajo Nation’s Commission on Emergency Management to issue an emergency drought declaration.  Tribal officials expect drought to persist through the summer, which would cause a shortage of water and feed for livestock.  The Navajo Nation reservation covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo Nation issues new emergency drought declaration, by The Associated Press, KOB-TV NBC 4 (Albuquerque), Feb. 28, 2018


For more drought information, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.



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