Thursday, April 26, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

January 2014: U.S. Drought expands in West, disappears in East

The U.S. Drought Monitor for Jan. 28, 2014, showed 26.49 percent of the lower 48 states in drought, compared with 33.22 percent on Jan. 7. 

This four-week change map shows the difference between the U.S. Drought Monitor maps for Dec. 31, 2013, and Jan. 28, 2014. 

The February Drought Outlook shows that drought is likely to persist in the West and from the Texas Panhandle through western Nebraska, and in parts of the Midwest. 

This time series shows U.S. Drought Monitor status for California from 2000 through the present.
California received an average of 7.37 inches of precipitation in 2013, 33 percent of normal, making it the driest year on record. Graphic courtesy of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

Movers & Shakers for January 2014

State Percent area
Jan. 7, 2014
Percent  area Jan. 28, 2014

Biggest Increases in Drought

Arizona 57.19 68.43 moderate
 24.66 36.10 severe
California 27.59  67.19 extreme
8.77 exceptional
Kansas 46.92 63.46 moderate
33.89 46.63 severe
Louisiana 0 6.67 moderate
Nevada 28.55 38.17 extreme
New Mexico 79.58 96.11 moderate
32.68 48.34 severe
3.96  12.93 extreme
Oklahoma 38.17 46.74 moderate
18.99  28.80 severe
4.84 10.12 extreme
Oregon 88.04 100 moderate
24.96 76.51 severe
Texas 43.89 49.37 moderate
Washington 54.80 93.05 moderate

Biggest Improvements in Drought

Connecticut 5.28 0 moderate
Massachusetts 54.05 0 moderate
New Hampshire 9.78 0 moderate
New York 4.19 0 moderate

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


Drought expanded and intensified in January. The month started with 33.22 percent of the 48 contiguous states in drought and ended with 36.49 percent in drought. The proportion in extreme drought almost doubled, increasing from 4.13 to 7.24 percent during the month.


January saw cold temperatures over the eastern half of the United States and warm temperatures over the West. Almost all of the area west of the Rocky Mountains had temperatures 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with some areas in California and Nevada 6-9 degrees above normal. In stark contrast, temperatures east of the Rocky Mountains were generally 3-6 degrees below normal while the Great Lakes region and the Tennessee Valley were 6-9 degrees below normal.


January was a very dry month over most of the United States, but especially in the Southwest and West. Areas from central Texas to southern California got less than 2 percent of normal precipitation, while most areas of California had less than 25 percent of normal. It was also dry in the Plains. The area from South Dakota to Texas generally had less than 50 percent of normal, with many areas at less than 25 percent of normal. It was fairly wet from Colorado to Montana. Most areas in this section of the Rocky Mountains recorded 150-200 percent of normal precipitation. Around the Great Lakes and in northern New England, precipitation was generally normal to slightly above normal. Most of the area from the Mississippi River Valley to the Southeast was dry, receiving just 25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation. Florida was the one spot in the Southeast where precipitation recorded in January was generally 100 to 150 percent of normal.


Drought will persist in the central and western United States in February. Some new areas of drought are likely to develop over southern California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas.  Drought in Missouri and Illinois may improve during the month.

Regional Overviews


As was the case in December, the winter pattern brought enough precipitation that drought issues were eliminated from the region in January. The area started with 5.14 percent in drought and it all improved, leaving just a few abnormally dry areas. Some areas from central Pennsylvania to Virginia recorded less than 50 percent of normal precipitation, but for the most part the region recorded greater than 70 percent of normal precipitation.  


A very dry month for the region, outside of Florida, did not lead to expanded drought, because the water demand this time of year is low. The region continued to be drought free in January even though most areas recorded less than 70 percent of normal precipitation. Alabama and Mississippi were even drier, receiving less than half of normal precipitation. Florida was the wet spot. Most areas from northeast Florida to the south recorded 150 percent of normal precipitation. Temperatures were cold with the entire region below normal and most areas 4-8 degrees below normal for the month.


The cold weather and dry conditions did not lead to any changes in the drought status of the Midwest in January, where 17.70 percent of the area is still in drought. Most areas from Iowa and Missouri were very dry with less than 50 percent of normal precipitation commonplace, while areas to the east were less than 70 percent of normal. The upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions recorded more precipitation. Portions of northern Wisconsin, Michigan and central Minnesota had 110-150 percent of normal precipitation in January. Most of the region was 6-10 degrees below normal, keeping soils frozen solid.

High Plains

A dry month in the region led to some expansion and intensification of drought, mainly in Kansas and Nebraska. January started with 20.60 percent of the region in drought and ended at 23.33 percent. Severe drought also increased from 12.28 to 14.43 percent during the month. From western North Dakota into South Dakota and almost all of Nebraska and Kanas, precipitation was about 25-50 percent of normal for the month. The eastern portions of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas were 2-6 degrees below normal for the month but the western areas were from normal to 2-4 degrees above normal.


A very dry month in the South led to expansion and intensification of drought. The month started with 27.25 percent of the region in drought and ended with 31.75 percent in drought. Severe drought increased from 13.05 to 15.26 percent and extreme drought increased from 3.58 to 4.95 percent of the region. All areas had below-normal precipitation for the month. The driest were in central and west Texas where less than 5 percent of normal precipitation was recorded. As with most of the country, the area was cooler than usual in January, generally by 2-4 degrees.


The record-setting dry start to the 2013-2014 water year continued in January with most areas from Washington to New Mexico recording below-normal precipitation. Areas of southern California, southern Nevada and Arizona and New Mexico recorded less than 2 percent of their monthly normal. Some areas of Montana, Wyoming and northern Colorado were wet, with precipitation of 125-200 percent of normal. Temperatures were warm over the West. Almost all areas were above normal, California and Nevada by as much as 6-8 degrees. Due to the warm and dry conditions, drought expanded and intensified in January. The month started with 57.47 percent of the region in drought and ended with 63.50 percent in drought. Severe drought expanded from 32.31 to 39.67 percent, extreme drought expanded from 8.20 to 15.29 percent and exceptional drought increased from 0.63 to 1.80 percent. Exceptional drought was introduced into California for the first time in the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor and by the end of January, more than two-thirds of the state was in extreme drought.

Water supply concerns in West as drought persists, intensifies

The Drought Impact Reporter had 125 impacts for January 2014, with the largest concentration in California, and 68 of the impacts dealing with Water Supply. 

Water supply and government response were the most frequently reported impact categories in January 2014. 

Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was 10 percent on Feb. 4, compared to the April 1 average, the typical peak. The north had 4 percent of the April 1 average, while the central and southern parts had 12 and 14 percent, respectively. California Data Exchange Center.

Reservoir conditions were below average in all but the smallest reservoirs shown on the chart at left from the California Department of Water Resources. 

From the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership. 

  The Sierra Nevada mountain range in California has much less snow than it did last year at this time. The Jan. 1 snow survey revealed a snowpack with 20 percent of average water content; Jan. 30 found 12 percent of average. Photo courtesy of NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory 

by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Epic drought in California had water managers and users highly attuned to the prospects of another dry year and the need for mountain snows. The state declared drought on Jan. 17; irrigators learned they would receive little if any water; ranchers were buying hay and slimming herds; some municipalities had two to four months’ water left; fire danger was high; and hiking and biking replaced skiing in some spots.  Other parts of the West were also feeling similar effects.  Parts of Texas were also contending with long-term drought and depleted water supplies.

U.S. Department of Agriculture declared drought-related disasters in 11 states

Counties in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California were declared to be primary natural disaster areas, due to drought.  The dearth of precipitation has dried up water supplies, hurt pasture and range condition and depleted soil moisture.
Drought prompts disaster declarations in 11 states,” AP, Jan. 16, 2014. 

Winter Wheat

As of the Jan. 28 U.S. Drought Monitor, 48 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop was in drought, and some parts of the Great Plains lacked snow cover to protect it from bitterly cold temperatures.
“Ag in Drought,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Chief Economist, Jan. 28, 2014. 
Drought Persists as Low Temperatures Threaten Wheat,” Farm Futures, Jan. 23, 2014.

Drought unearths history, both natural and man-made

Low water levels in lakes across the Western U.S. are revealing hidden historical artifacts not seen in many years. Lake Folsom in California, Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border and Lake Buchanan near Austin are some of the lakes sharing their secrets. Low water levels have revealed remnants of ghost towns, a cemetery in Texas, and in Utah, a Native American site, Fort Moki, and a natural feature, the Cathedral of the Desert rock formation.
Drought Provides Window to Old West,” by Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 26, 2014.


Gold prospectors were taking advantage of low river levels in Placer County to look for gold along river banks that have not been exposed in more than 100 years. A man panning for gold along the Bear River in Colfax found a chip of gold about one-fourth the size of a pea.
“Prospectors take advantage of California drought,” AP, The Sacramento Bee, Jan. 27, 2014.


Governor declares drought emergency

Gov. Jerry Brown of California announced a drought emergency for the state on Jan. 17 amid a dry stretch worse than any in the last 153 years. He urged residents to curb their water use by at least 20 percent voluntarily, although a mandatory water conservation order may be in the works. The emergency drought declaration  allows the state to take more water from Lake Mead, which could hasten the advent of water restrictions for Las Vegas. Lake Mead is presently about 1,100 feet above sea level, just 25 feet above the point at which a water shortage would be triggered.
California Drought to Affect Lake Mead Levels,” by Karen Castro and Nick Pantazi, KLAS-TV Las Vegas, Jan. 27, 2014.
Gov. Jerry Brown declares drought emergency in California,” by Anthony York, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 17, 2014.

Governor urges conservation

The governor urged water conservation in the bathroom by taking shorter showers, turning off the water while brushing teeth and flushing less frequently. While water conservation remained voluntary, Brown said that "every day this drought goes on, we're going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing."
Brown tells Californians to conserve amid drought,” by the Associated Press, The Sacramento Bee, Jan. 30, 2014.

Environmental rules eased to cope with emergency

The drought emergency declaration softened some environmental rules and water quality standards, allowing water that is saltier and warmer than previously permitted in rivers and estuaries. Fishing and environmental groups worry that the water needs of cities and farms will take priority over wildlife’s water needs.
California Drought Loosens Some Environmental Rules,” by Lauren Sommer, KQED (San Francisco), Jan. 20, 2014.

President expresses concern

President Obama called California Gov. Jerry Brown to express his concern and offer support from the federal government for state and local agencies as they worked to prepare for and mitigate drought impacts.
President Obama calls Jerry Brown to discuss state's drought,” by Anthony York, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29, 2014.

Water systems face limited supplies

The California Department of Public Health listed 17 communities that have 60 to 120 days’ worth of drinking water remaining. The water systems are located in Amador, Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Nevada, Placer, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties and range in size from serving just 39 people to 11,000 people. The state health department checked with the more than 3,000 water agencies in the state to assess the status of the systems and will revise its list of communities with water shortages weekly.
California drought: 17 communities could run out of water within 60 to 120 days, state says,” by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 28, 2014.

State Water Project deliveries could drop to zero

After the state’s first snow survey of 2014, many water agencies took very seriously the scant snowpack of just 20 percent of average water content. Many water districts and communities were strongly urging water conservation and suspension of outdoor watering activities wherever possible. In November, the State Water Project offered an initial allocation of just 5 percent of requested amounts, given the meager snowpack and low reservoirs. A more recent snow survey on Jan. 30 found that the snowpack’s statewide water content was just 12 percent of average, prompting the SWP to predict that they will provide no water for the first time in the project’s history.
California drought: Meager snowpack sets record,” by Peter Fimrite, SFGate, Jan. 30, 2014.
California drought prompts first-ever 'zero water allocation',” by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 31, 2014.

Preliminary curtailment notices draw attention to drought

The State Water Resources Control Board sent out notices warning of surface water shortages and the potential for the curtailment of water right diversions, including diversions for some holders of riparian and pre-1914 water rights. The last time notices of potential curtailment of water diversions were sent out was 1977.
Rare ‘curtailment’ notice underlines depth of drought,” by Kate Campbell, Ag Alert (Sacramento), Jan. 29, 2014.

Farmers and ranchers downsizing and adjusting to reduced supplies

Pastures remained brown and dry, leading ranchers to purchase hay for livestock, which is expensive because little grew this summer. Many California ranchers were selling livestock because drought dried up pastures and water supplies. Farmers also report that the lack of moisture has prevented germination or killed crops and vegetation. Crop plans were adjusted to accommodate smaller water supplies. Some San Joaquin Valley farmers were responding to the water crisis by bulldozing almond trees, idling fields and changing cropping plans to make wise use of what little water they will get.
California drought has ranchers selling cattle,” by Jason Dearen, Associated Press, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs), Jan. 26, 2014.
Drought impacting California cattle ranchers, farmers,” by Ching Lee, Central Valley Business Times (Stockton), Jan. 9, 2014.
 “San Joaquin Valley farmers take drastic measures to deal with drought,” by Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee, Jan. 18, 2014.

Supplemental feeding may make beef ineligible for organic label

Drought threatened Sonoma County livestock producers’ ability to meet organic production guidelines saying that cattle must graze on pasture for at least 120 days and receive a minimum of 30 percent of their feed from pasture. Water supplies were also running low.
Drought parches pastures on organic dairies,” by Ching Lee, AgAlert, Jan. 29, 2014.

Above-normal wildfire activity in January

The California Department of Forestry fought more than 400 fires in January, although the fire-year January average is 69 fires, according to the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 
Californians brace for year of 'mega-drought',” by Julie Schmit and Elizabeth Weise, USA Today, Feb. 5, 2014.

Fishing curtailed

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed some rivers and streams to fishing in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties to protect salmon and steelhead populations while river flows are low. River levels were low enough to keep fish from swimming upstream to spawn. The CDFW is also considering additional river closures, including sections of the American River and Russian River.
Local rivers closed to fishing by state,” The Salinas Californian, Jan. 29, 2014.

Less skiing, more hiking and biking

Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area were hurting without adequate snow and some were closed in early January until the area got enough snow to open. Locals who expected to be working at the resorts were laid off and hoping for snow to bring more visitors. People who made their reservations months ago were still coming, but were doing more hiking and biking instead of skiing.
Feeble snowfall leaves some resorts high and dry,” by Ed Fletcher, The Sacramento Bee, Jan. 8, 2014.

Drought could prompt changes in ski resort ownership

Many ski resorts have gotten just a small fraction of the snow they usually receive by this point in the season, cutting deeply into revenue, which may lead to larger ski resorts buying up smaller ones. Snowfall has not been so low at the 25 ski resorts in California since the 1971-72 season, according to the California Ski Industry Association. Resorts have to find ways to cut costs until conditions improve.
Ski Resorts Seen as Buyout Targets Amid U.S. West Drought,” by Nadja Brandt and James Nash, Bloomberg, Jan. 27, 2014.

Watch out for bears

California and Nevada bears were emerging from hibernation three months early, but drought has reduced natural food sources for bears, which could easily lead them to dine from neighborhood trash cans and other residential sources.
Experts Warn California Drought Bringing Black Bears Out Of Hibernation Early, “ CBS Sacramento, Jan. 21, 2014.
Hooked on garbage, Nevada bears quit hibernation,” by Nidhi Subbaraman, NBC News, Jan. 14, 2014.


Snowpack low, fire danger high

The statewide snowpack in Oregon is 32 percent of average, and the fire danger is high. The National Weather Service issued a fire watch for the southwestern part of the state. Fire watches are typical for late summer and early fall, not January.
Winter drought sparks concerns across state,” by Tracy Loew, Salem Statesman Journal, Jan. 24, 2014.

Exceptionally active fire season 

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. Extensive dry conditions and easterly overland winds increased the fire danger in the state. These fires were in the jurisdiction of the ODF, which encompasses 16 million acres of private and public forest lands. Because it is winter, firefighters do not have all of the resources for battling fires that they do in the warmer months. Fewer personnel are on duty, and equipment is generally outfitted for other tasks at this time of year. “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, the Stayton Mail, Salem Statesman-Journal, Feb. 5, 2014.

Fishing curtailed

Steelhead have not moved out of the Rogue River into the Applegate River, due to low flows, as rainfall in southwestern Oregon fell to a historic low. Applegate Lake was at its lowest point since the lake was created in 1980, at more than 29 feet below the average late-January level, leaving no extra water to release. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reduced the flow from Applegate Dam to 80 cubic feet per second, which is 20 cfs less than the project’s minimum flows for wild salmon and steelhead protection. The Corps hopes to retain as much water as possible behind the dam to use in the summer, keeping river flows high and cool enough to protect wild fall chinook salmon and winter steelhead that hatch and rear in the Applegate. Drought forced river managers to choose between fish survival and fishing opportunities.
Low and slow,” by Mark Freeman, Mail Tribune (Medford), Jan. 24, 2014. 


Texas reservoirs still showing effects of drought

Water supplies in north Texas and the Austin area continue to recede without enough precipitation to replenish them, even in the winter, when they normally recover. Lakes in the Dallas area were about 10 percent lower than the already-low levels of a year earlier,  and lakes Travis and Buchanan near Austin were nearing historical lows. Recent rains in some areas have been enough to green up vegetation but not enough to saturate soil and then produce runoff to fill lakes, rivers and streams.
A year of paltry rains leaves depleted Dallas area reservoirs lower still,” by Michael E. Young, Dallas News, Jan. 11, 2014

Dry, windy conditions slowing growth in West Texas

Dry, windy weather stressed winter forages and hindered or stopped growth in parts of western Texas.
Dry weather promotes fieldwork, slows winter forage growth,” by Robert Burns, Abilene Reporter-News, Jan. 26, 2014.


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