Sunday, March 18, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

January 2016 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought and Climate for January 2016: Drought mostly confined to the West

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 Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


By the end of January, most of the drought in the United States was in the West, with just a few areas in New England experiencing moderate drought.  Areas of the West did receive good precipitation during the month, which helped to ease the intensity of the 3+ years of drought impacting the region.  January ended with 15.48 percent of the CONUS in drought compared to 18.74 percent at the beginning of the year.  Severe drought improved from 11.56 to 8.44 percent, extreme drought improved from 6.28 to 4.61 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 2.70 to 2.25 percent of the contiguous United States.  Conditions remained unchanged in Alaska and Puerto Rico, but Hawaii did see the return of moderate drought as El Niño impacted the Islands.  At the end of January, more than 46 million people were being affected by drought in the CONUS compared to just over 75 million at the end of December 2015.

Drought Outlook

During February, drought conditions will continue to improve over much of the West, with some removal of drought along the coastal regions.  Drought will persist in some of the areas that have not had as much winter precipitation in the West, especially those areas that have been in drought the longest.  Drought will continue to develop over Hawaii.


As is typical with an El Niño signal, the northern portion of the United States was warmer than normal in January, with temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal.  The Four Corners region and much of the Mid-Atlantic to the Southeast had below-normal temperatures as well as the most active weather going through these areas.  Departures were 2-4 degrees below normal in January.


In keeping with the El Niño signal, much of the West had above-normal precipitation during January, with portions of northern California recording 3-6 inches above normal for the month.  Much of the rest of the United States recorded normal to slightly below normal precipitation; only portions of south Texas, the Florida peninsula, and portions of the Mid-Atlantic had above-normal precipitation, with departures of 3-6 inches above normal.


Regional Overviews


Temperatures through much of New England were 4-8 degrees above normal while the southern areas of the Northeast were 2-4 degrees below normal in January.  Much of the region was drier than normal, with departures of up to 2 inches below normal quite common, especially in New England.  Areas of the Mid-Atlantic were impacted by a large snow event, which pushed monthly precipitation totals above normal with some areas of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania up to 1 inch above normal for the month.  Drought conditions did improve where the greatest precipitation affected drought regions during January.  Drought now impacts just 3.27 percent of the region, compared to 6.60 percent at the beginning of January.


Temperatures were cooler than normal in January; most areas were 2-3 degrees below normal, but some areas of Tennessee were 4-5 degrees below normal.  Dry conditions were dominant over the region in January with most of the area 2-4 inches below normal precipitation for the month.  The Florida peninsula was the exception as precipitation was 4-6 inches above normal.  Drought is not an issue in this region and no part of the region was in drought at the end of January.

Movers & Shakers for January 2016

Percent area Dec. 29, 2015

Percent area Feb. 2, 2016 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Hawaii 0.00 19.23 Moderate 19.23
Wyoming 4.25 12.65 Moderate 8.40
Biggest improvements in drought
Arizona 29.87 16.13 Moderate 13.74
California 69.07 63.90 Extreme 5.17
44.84 39.41 Exceptional 5.43
Connecticut 92.26 29.76 Moderate 62.50


64.05 58.25 Moderate 5.80
24.35 3.90 Severe 20.45
Indiana 10.41 0.00 Moderate 10.41
Massachusetts 26.34 20.63 Moderate 5.71
Michigan 10.93 0.00 Moderate 10.93
Montana 20.95 12.66 Severe 8.29
Nevada 93.08 71.80 Moderate 21.28
65.49 40.76  Severe 24.73
9.35 4.79  Exceptional 4.56
 New Jersey 7.08 0.00  Moderate 7.08
 New York 7.06 2.04  Moderate 5.02
 Ohio 3.83 0.00  Moderate 3.83
 Oregon  80.45 74.56  Moderate 5.89
 65.33 40.97  Severe 24.36
 39.55 4.38
 Extreme 35.17
 Rhode Island  18.42 0.00  Moderate 18.42
 Utah  53.37 30.09  Moderate 23.28
 22.34 12.79  Severe 9.55
 Washington  25.67 7.77  Moderate 17.90


Warmer than normal conditions across the northern portions of the Midwest and cooler than normal conditions over areas in the southern portions of the region were common.  Over the upper Midwest, temperatures were 4-6 degrees above normal while to the south they were 2-4 degrees below normal.  Most of the Midwest was drier than normal in January with departures of 1-3 inches below normal.  The moderate drought in the Midwest was eliminated this month and there is no longer any drought in the region.

High Plains

Most of the High Plains had temperatures 2-4 degrees above normal, with the greatest departures above normal throughout North Dakota.  The High Plains had mostly normal precipitation in January; only areas of southern Kansas were well below normal, with departures of 1-2 inches below normal.  Drought is minimal over the region with just a few pockets of moderate drought over North Dakota and Wyoming, covering 2.97 percent of the region.


Temperatures were generally cooler than normal over the South with departures of up to 2 inches below normal.  Some areas of the Texas Panhandle and into Oklahoma were warmer than normal, 1-2 degrees above normal for the month.  Conditions were drier than normal for the South with departures of 2-4 inches below normal generally over east Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.   Drought is not an issue in the region with no drought at the end of January.


Temperatures were warmer than normal along the West coast and the Northern Rocky Mountains, where departures were 2-4 degrees above normal.  Over the Four Corners and into the Great Basin, temperatures were below normal with departures of 2-4 degrees.  January was fairly wet over the West with most areas normal to above normal.  The greatest departures were over California and southern Oregon, where precipitation was 3-6 inches above normal and up to 9 inches above normal in portions of northern California.  The long-term drought issues are improving slowly while the short-term conditions are doing well.  Drought now impacts 38.46 percent of the region compared to 45.07 percent at the start of January.  Severe drought improved from 29.30 to 21.39 percent, extreme drought improved from 15.92 to 11.69 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 6.85 to 5.70 percent of the region.





January 2016 impact summary: El Niño storms begin to fill reservoirs, ease water concerns, but still a long way to go

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

Some long-awaited El Niño storms have arrived in California, bringing wet relief to the parched Golden State and other parts of the West.  While small pockets of drought existed in the Northeast and Southeast, the largest and severest region of drought remained in the West.  Of the thirty-four impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter in January, twenty-four were about water supply issues in California and responses and restrictions associated with those issues.

El Niño storms

 This El Niño has been one of the strongest, if not the strongest, on record, but it hasn’t yet delivered the deluges of precipitation seen in other strong El Niños.  Much of the tropical convection has brought precipitation to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, rather than to Southern California, but even an average wet season is noteworthy after years of little rain.  Typically in strong El Niño winters, most of the heavy precipitation falls from February through April, so there is still plenty of time for more storms.

“El Niño: It’s One For the Books — But Not Behaving As Expected,” by Daniel Swain, KQED (San Francisco), Feb. 1, 2016

California water board eased conservation mandates to 23 percent 

 While Californians have done well to conserve 25.5 percent cumulatively from June through December 2015, some water districts have struggled to meet water conservation mandates and hoped for some relief from the rules.   The Water Resources Control Board, however, opted for modest adjustments to the conservation mandates, giving relief to hot areas like the Southern California desert and the Central Valley, but offering no change 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 2013, the modified rules require a savings 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

Allocations for state, federal water projects

 The Department of Water Resources projected a water delivery of 15 percent of full water allotments for 2016 after rains increased reservoir levels. In 2015, the State Water Project delivered 20 percent of full allotments, and, in 2014, delivered just 5 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has not yet offered its initial allocation for the Central Valley Project. It usually does so in late February. However, given the low reservoir levels for the federal project, Westlands Water District warned its members not to expect any water from the Central Valley Project for the third consecutive year.

“California farmers brace for water shortage despite El Niño,” by Scott Smith, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), Jan. 18, 2016

“California projects 15% of full water deliveries,” by Ian James, Palm Springs Desert Sun (Calif.), Jan. 26, 2016

Water flows through California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta temporarily reduced

 Water flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were reduced temporarily to protect Delta smelt from being swept into the water pumps after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that extremely muddy water from winter storms was problematic for the smelt. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation slowed water flows to Southern California on Jan. 15.

The January 2016 trawl for delta smelt found the fish were nearly absent from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  Just four males and three females were observed, in comparison with the January 2015 trawl when about twice that many fish were found. In January 2014, about twenty times that many fish were seen.

Only 318,000 of California’s juvenile winter-run salmon survived in 2015, and most of the nearly 10 million eggs perished. Warm water temperatures in the drought-stricken Sacramento River and its tributaries killed the young fish, making 2015 the second straight year of paltry survival numbers for the fish. In 2014, just 5 percent of the salmon survived, compared to the pre-drought year of 2011 when 41 percent survived. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to release hundreds of thousands of hatchery-raised winter-run salmon in February 2016 to compensate for the high mortality rate in 2015.

“California temporarily curbing water to spare vanishing fish,” by Ellen Knickmeyer, San Francisco Chronicle (, Jan. 14, 2016

“California's Most Endangered Fish Having Worst Year Ever,” by KCET-TV Los Angeles, Jan. 27, 2016

“2nd disastrous drought year for endangered California salmon,” by Ellen Knickmeyer, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Feb. 1, 2016

Panel to explore safety of using oilfield wastewater on crops

 Some California farmers lacking irrigation water amid years of drought have turned to oilfield wastewater as an alternative for watering crops, but it was unknown how chemicals in the wastewater affected food safety. A new panel of state officials, academic experts and industry representatives began investigating food safety and toxicity concerns because the effect of oilfield chemicals in food is “largely unstudied and unknown,” according to the Pacific Institute. Leftover production fluid from at least five oilfields was being used to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of mainly almond, pistachio and citrus crops.

“Experts to study food safety of oilfield wastewater,”by Ellen Knickmeyer, San Francisco Chronicle (, Jan. 12, 2016


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