Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought mostly unchanged in January

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


Drought: Conditions improved slightly in January with 28.44 percent of the contiguous United States in drought on Feb. 3, compared to 28.68 percent on Dec. 30. Severe drought improved from 16.93 to 16.04 percent and extreme drought improved from 8.96 to 8.87 percent, while exceptional drought conditions increased from 2.54 to 3.12 percent, mainly in Nevada and California. Drought now affects 65.9 million people, compared to 66.4 million people in late December.

Outlook: The outlook for February has most of the drought in the western United States continuing, with slight improvements in portions of Oregon, Washington and California. Larger improvements are expected over New Mexico and southeast Arizona. Drought conditions will continue to develop over northern Minnesota as well as in portions of central Kansas and eastern Oklahoma. Drought will also expand in portions of northeast Arkansas, western Tennessee, southeast Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Precipitation: The majority of the United States had near-normal precipitation during January. Above-normal precipitation was recorded in a large area from Arizona to Texas. The greatest departures from normal were over east Texas, which was 2-6 inches wetter than usual. Dry conditions prevailed over California and Oregon. Many locations along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges and in northern California were 8-10 inches below normal for the month. San Francisco recorded zero precipitation for the first time since written records were established. Portions of northeast Arkansas and western Tennessee were also 2-4 inches drier than usual during the month.

Temperature: Temperatures were quite variable across the country in January. Most of the eastern United States and the southern Plains had temperatures below normal by 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit, with the greatest departures from normal over New York and extreme south Texas. The exception to this was the Florida peninsula, where temperatures were 2-4 degrees above normal. The central and High Plains and all of the western United States had temperatures well above normal, in most areas by 2-6 degrees. The greatest departures were in Nevada, southwest Wyoming, northeast Utah and in California along the Sierra Nevada range.

Regional Overviews


Cooler than normal temperatures, by as much as 4-6 degrees, dominated the Northeast in January. A significant winter storm affected the coastal region and about 100 miles inland, bringing with it above-normal precipitation for the month. But most of the region was slightly drier than normal. Even with the dryness, the region had no drought.


The Southeast was also cooler and drier than normal in January. Most locations were 2 degrees cooler than normal for the month, with the exception of the Florida peninsula, which was 2-4 degrees warmer than normal. Outside of the coastal regions of North Carolina and northeast Florida, dry conditions prevailed, with departures of 2-3 inches below normal quite common. Drought conditions improved, as some areas along the Gulf Coast in Alabama got enough rain at the end of January to make a difference. Currently, 0.42 percent of the region is in drought compared to 0.87 percent in December.

Movers & Shakers for January 2015
Percent area
Dec. 30, 2014
Percent area
Feb. 3, 2015
Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought

23.78 moderate 9.38
0.00 5.69 severe 5.69
California 32.21 39.99 exceptional 7.78
Hawaii 2.76 46.63 moderate 43.87
Kentucky 0.00 23.35 moderate 23.35
Minnesota 0.67 5.67 moderate 5.00
Nevada 11.89 17.43 exceptional 5.54
North Dakota
1.48 9.53 moderate 8.05
Oklahoma 40.84 45.34 severe 4.50
Oregon 80.70 83.95 moderate 3.25
Tennessee 0.00 22.52 moderate 22.52
Biggest decreases in drought
83.05 75.22 moderate 7.83
35.35 27.79 severe 7.56
Idaho 41.73 34.69 moderate 7.04
Louisiana 10.88 3.36 moderate 7.52
Mississippi 6.89 3.26 moderate 3.63
Nevada 68.25 63.08 severe 5.17
New Mexico
65.38 61.54 moderate 3.84
29.10 26.01 severe 3.09
Texas 44.68 38.57 moderate 6.11
Washington 36.15 22.43 moderate 13.72
14.83 5.96 severe 8.87


Temperatures were mixed across the Midwest region in January, with the eastern extent 2-4 degrees below normal, and the upper Midwest 2-4 degrees above normal. January was mainly dry, with most areas recording precipitation of 1-1.50 inches below normal for the month. Portions of Kentucky were 3 inches below normal for January, which caused moderate drought to expand over more of the western portions of the state. February began with 3.16 percent of the region in drought compared to 0.11 percent in December.

High Plains

Most of the High Plains region was 2-6 degrees warmer than normal in January. The greatest departures were in the Dakotas. Much of the region saw normal precipitation, but southeast Kansas was 1.50 inches below normal and portions of central North Dakota were slightly above normal. Drought conditions expanded slightly during the month, mainly in North Dakota. February began with 12.49 percent of the region in moderate drought compared to 11.28 percent at the end of December.


Most of the South recorded temperatures of 2-4 degrees below normal in January. Portions of central to western Oklahoma were normal or slightly on the wet side for the month. Most of Texas and Louisiana recorded above normal-precipitation in January, in some cases by as much as 5 inches. Northeast Arkansas, western Tennessee and northeast Oklahoma were 2-3 inches drier than normal. Drought conditions improved overall during the month, with 32.70 percent of the region in drought in early February compared to 33.88 percent in December. Severe, extreme, and exceptional drought all improved slightly during the month, with the biggest changes in Texas and Louisiana.


Warm temperatures continue to dominate the West, reducing snowpack throughout the region. Most areas were 4-6 degrees warmer than normal for the month, with only portions of southeast New Mexico being below normal. Most of the region was at or slightly above normal for precipitation in January. The exceptions were in California and Oregon, where precipitation was 6-8 inches below normal, continuing the long-term trend. Portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Montana were about 2 inches wetter than normal. Drought conditions improved slightly, with the biggest improvements in the Southwest. Drought currently affects 52.74 percent of the region, compared to 54.48 at the end of December. Severe drought improved from 33.50 to 31.35 percent and extreme drought improved from 18.68 to 18.51 percent, but exceptional drought increased from 5.40 to 6.96 percent of the region, mainly in California and Nevada.

California agencies prepare for ongoing drought; water supplies lagging in Texas

By Denise Gutzmer, Drought Impact Specialist

The pie chart at left shows how the 61 impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter for January 2015 were categorized. Water Supply and Quality and Relief, Response and Restrictions each made up 30 percent of the total. The bar chart at right displays impacts for each of the eight most-affected states. As has been the pattern in recent months, California has the most, with Texas a distant second. Both are large, populous states that have been in drought for years, although drought appears to be on the wane in Texas.
Above, the graphic from Water Data for Texas shows a slight improvement in reservoir storage in the past year. At left, the weekly map produced by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality shows 389 water systems with voluntary restrictions and 778 with mandatory restrictions as of Feb. 4.

 The chart at top left shows California reservoir conditions as of Feb. 9. All are below historic averages. At left, the Snow Water Equivalents chart shows that the Sierra snowpack is about 25 percent of average for this date. Above the Association of California Water Agencies is collecting information on water suppliers' responses to drought.

Drought continued in the Southwest, Pacific Northwest and southern Plains in January, although the appearance of impacts slowed, as is typical in the winter. Water issues remained a huge concern in California because December rainfall ended abruptly and little precipitation fell in January, which turned into one of the state’s driest on record. Texas had continued water woes as reservoirs remained low after years of drought.

The Drought Impact Reporter recorded 61 impacts during the month, with most related to relief, response and restrictions, illustrating high awareness of drought in political and policy-making contexts. There were 44 impacts listed for California, 12 for Texas, six for New Mexico and five or fewer for other states.

U.S. Agriculture

USDA program gives more than $2.7 billion to Southern Great Plains cattle producers

Livestock producers in Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri altogether received over $2.7 billion in payments from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program for losses stemming from drought between Oct. 1, 2011 and Dec. 1, 2014. Oklahoma led the pack with $883 million, Texas followed with $592.36 million, Nebraska got $512.89 million, Kansas received $461.26 million, and Missouri producers got $303.58 million. Oklahoma producers statewide received more than 70,000 payments. Producers in northwestern and southwestern Oklahoma have suffered the most since drought began in that part of the state in October 2010.
“Oklahoma ranchers received $883 million in federal drought relief, most in the nation,” by Silas Allen, Tulsa World (Okla.), Jan. 28, 2015

California braces for another dry year

After the Dec. 30 snow survey near Echo Summit, when surveyors found a snow water equivalent of 4 inches or 33 percent of average, the snowpack deteriorated steadily, with no storms bringing more precipitation. At the Jan. 29 snow survey, the water equivalent had shrunk to 2.3 inches or 12 percent of average. Because snowpack provides roughly a third of the water for California’s people, agriculture and industry, 2015 could be another very challenging drought year if the weather pattern does not change. Numerous California cities, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Sonora, Redding and others, had their lowest monthly precipitation on record in January.
“Survey Finds More Snow in Mountains, but Water Content Is Still Far Below Average for Date,” by California Department of Water Resources, Dec. 30, 2014
“New survey shows far less snow than last month in California,” by Rich Pedroncelli and Kristin J. Bender, Associated Press, Redding Record Searchlight (Calif.), Jan. 29, 2015

 Snow Water Equivalents from the California Data Exchange Center

   As of Dec. 30, 2014
As of Jan. 29, 2015


Percent of normal for date    

Percent of April 1 average

Percent of normal for date

Percent of April 1 average

Northern Sierra





Central Sierra





Southern Sierra










State Water Project allocation up slightly in January

The California Department of Water Resources announced on Jan. 15 that water deliveries would be 15 percent of customers’ requested allocations, including Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley, up from an estimate of 10 percent in December. The water delivery would be an improvement over 2014 when customers south of the Delta received no water.
“DWR Increases 2015 Allocation to Water Contractors,”
by California Department of Water Resources, Jan. 15, 2015

California water officials, feds exploring options

California and federal officials are planning measures to cope with a fourth year of drought, as found in various news articles and recently summarized by the Sacramento Bee. Some of these are:

  • The State Water Resources Control Board is considering more strict conservation measures for urban water agencies.
  • The State Water Board also alerted water rights holders that curtailments may be ordered again this year. Last year nearly 10,000 users were told to end diversions, a measure not taken since 1977.
  • The California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cooperated in devising a plan to ease water quality rules and water rights permits to contend with ongoing drought and submitted it to state regulators. The high level of cooperation also permitted water projects based in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to store storm runoff without running afoul of obligations to protect water quality and wildlife.
    “January looking dry, next few months warm,”
    Bakersfield Californian (Calif.), Jan. 15, 2015
  • The DWR is prepared to construct three temporary dams on Delta sloughs to keep San Francisco Bay water from moving too far into the Delta. Fewer water releases would be needed if this measure is taken. The strategy was considered last year.
  • Three times as many or about 600,000 Chinook salmon will be released into the Sacramento River below Keswick Dam by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Warm water allowed a massive fish die-off to occur in 2014 when about 95 percent of the salmon eggs and newly hatched fish died.
    “Sierra snowpack dismal for January; fourth year of drought looks likely,”
    by Matt Weiser, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Jan. 29, 2015

Fish species suffering in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Populations of five species of fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta dropped dramatically during the past year of drought when freshwater flows weren’t enough to support their habitat. The affected fish include the Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, threadfin shad and striped bass. Delta smelt numbers nosedived to record lows in the fall fish survey. Water diversions for humans, pollution, habitat loss and invasive species all affect fish counts.
“Delta fish species decline amid California's drought,” by Matt Weiser, The Fresno Bee (Calif.), Jan. 14, 2015

Slopes not snowy enough for skiing in Sierra Nevada

At least two ski resorts closed temporarily in the Sierra Nevada due to the lack of snow. Operators tried to keep trails and other areas open for use, but could not do so without additional snow. Ski resorts in Tuolumne County, Yosemite National Park and near Truckee had no option but to close until storms bring more snow, but forecasters predict that drought will likely persist or worsen in coming months.
“Record highs predicted this weekend as January stays unseasonably warm and dry,” by Denis Cuff, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Jan. 20, 2015
“Lingering drought suspends X-country skiing near Tahoe,” by Associated Press, Las Vegas Sun (Nev.), Jan. 21, 2015

Texas experiencing long-term hydrologic drought impacts

Texas reservoir levels have been low since the searing 2011 drought, despite January rainfall in parts of the state. Statewide, reservoirs were at 65 percent of capacity on Feb. 5, higher than the minimum level tracked since 1990, but not by much. Some cities such as Dallas were looking at the possibility of water restrictions in the near future, while other communities, such as Wichita Falls and Abilene, have been coping by recycling waste water. Dallas’ reservoirs were 35.4 percent depleted on Jan. 2, a decline from 27.7 percent depleted at the start of 2014. Being below 35 percent triggers the city’s first contingency threshold, which includes limiting outdoor watering, requiring a shutoff nozzle for home car washing, and banning any recreational water use that causes runoff, which are typical measures for stage 1 restrictions.
“Dallas drought measures may see new types of enforcement,” by Elizabeth Findell, Dallas Morning News, Jan. 6, 2015
“Treated, effluent water now flowing into Lake Fort Phantom Hill,”
by Christian Collins, KTXS (Abilene, Texas), Jan. 8, 2015

2015 looking dire for New Mexico

Thin snowpack in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico suggests water users will see 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 are virtually empty at present, leaving farmers along the central New Mexico river with little water. The Bureau of Reclamation sent letters to users of the San Juan-Chama Project, warning that water may be short again this year, as it was in 2014.
“Water managers bracing for another dry year in NM ,” by John Fleck, ABQ Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.), Feb. 1, 2015

Oklahoma deer populations not yet rebounding from 2011-12 drought

Smaller deer populations led to less successful hunting in northwestern and southwestern Oklahoma. The Wildlife Division southwest region supervisor thought that drought led to poor reproduction numbers in 2011 and 2012 when fawn survival was poor. Deer populations in southwestern Oklahoma were likely to remain low until drought abates.
“State's deer harvest up, but drought-stricken west suffers,” Tulsa World (Okla.), Jan. 25, 2015

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