Monday, April 23, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Climate for January 2018: Drought development continues across southern United States

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


Drought development during January was quite extensive over much of the southern United States. As a second La Niña winter took hold, the typical dry pattern associated with it was observed over the southern tier of the country, with some areas of the Plains exceeding 100 days without measurable precipitation.  In January, drought coverage in the United States increased from 23.18 to 32.10, severe drought increased from 6.24 to 14.38 percent, extreme drought increased from 0.69 to 1.44 percent, and there was no exceptional drought.

Drought Outlook

The monthly drought outlook continues to show a strong La Niña signal of dryness over the southern United States.  Drought is expected to persist from southern California to Georgia, with further development expected in California, Texas, Utah, Nevada, Kansas and the Southeast.


January temperatures were cooler than normal over most of the eastern half of the United States, with areas in the South and Southeast 3-6 degrees cooler than normal.  The western side of the continental divide had warmer than normal temperatures, with portions of the Great Basin 9-12 degrees above normal for the month. 


With January being a fairly dry month over most of the United States, departures from normal were minimal, even in some of the areas where very little precipitation was observed.  Areas of the southern Plains recorded less than 25 percent of normal precipitation, with a larger area of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles recording less than 5 percent of normal.  Large areas of the Southwest, Southeast, and upper Midwest recorded 25-50 percent of normal precipitation.  Precipitation was 200 percent of normal or greater in pockets of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine and Florida.

Regional Overviews


Most of the region had temperatures 2-4 degrees below normal while portions of Maine and New Hampshire were warmer than normal with departures of 1-3 degrees.  Outside of the Mid-Atlantic area, most of the region was at or slightly above normal for precipitation in January, with some areas of Virginia and Maryland 2-3 inches below normal.  Drought has not been a concern in the region, with only 5.27 percent of the area in drought at the end of January and just 0.58 percent in severe drought.


Drier than normal conditions continued over much of the region, with departures of 1-2 inches below normal common.  Areas along the North Carolina coast and southern Florida did record above-normal precipitation.  Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the region, with departures of 4-6 degrees below normal widespread.  Although drought did not spread much in the region, it did intensify.  Drought now covers 39.45 percent of the region compared to 33.15 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought was introduced and now covers 17.39 percent of the region, and a small area of extreme drought was introduced in Alabama.

Movers & Shakers for January 2018

Percent area January 2, 2018

Percent area January 30, 2018 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Alabama 26.6 86.90 Moderate 60.30
0 46.37 Severe 46.37
Arizona 28.66 64.27 Severe 35.61
0 8.91 Extreme 8.91
California 12.69 43.72 Moderate 31.03
0 4.92 Severe 4.92
Colorado 33.53 75.90 Moderate 42.37
7.27 29.21 Severe 21.94
Florida 0 20.55 Severe 20.55
Georgia 40.66 50.48 Moderate 9.82
0 22.51 Severe 22.51
Iowa 8.13 15.23 Moderate 7.10
Kansas 32.70 65.29 Moderate 32.59
8.75 29.07 Severe 20.32
0 4.30 Extreme 4.30
Maryland 0 11.37 Severe 11.37
Mississippi 10.45 18.14 Moderate 7.69
Missouri 46.34 61.89 Moderate 15.55
Nevada 3.41 10.89 Moderate 7.48
New Mexico 45.97 94.13 Moderate 48.16
4.76 68.03 Severe 63.27
Oklahoma 77.15 99.76 Moderate 22.61
38.76 81.45 Severe 42.69
0 21.11 Extreme 21.11
Oregon 0 11.00 Moderate 11.00
Tennessee 0 22.85 Moderate 22.85
Texas 33.56 56.47 Moderate 22.91
5.94 21.98 Severe 16.04
0.11 7.30 Extreme 7.19
Utah 61.37 93.99 Moderate 32.62
19.64 47.53 Severe 27.89
Biggest improvements in drought
Arkansas 71.27 66.87 Moderate 4.40
Hawaii 21.25 4.31 Moderate 16.94
Louisiana 51.50 41.35 Moderate 10.15
33.35 28.45 Severe 4.90
Montana 42.04 28.19 Moderate 13.85
26.75 14.49 Severe 12.26
12.23 0 Extreme 12.23
North Carolina 35.34 13.38 Moderate 21.96
South Carolina 21.77 0 Moderate 21.77
South Dakota 5.92 0 Extreme 5.92
Virginia 51.85 48.58 Moderate 3.27


Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the South in January, with departures of 3-5 degrees below normal widespread.  The region was dry for January, with departures of up to 3 inches below normal over east Texas, eastern Oklahoma, northern Louisiana, Tennessee, and southern Arkansas.  Drought continued to spread and intensify over the region during the month, with 57.69 percent of the region now in drought compared to 42.64 percent at the beginning of January.  Severe drought now covers 29.36 percent of the region, an increase of 14.03 percent, while extreme drought was introduced in portions of Texas and Oklahoma and now covers 6.44 percent of the region.


Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the region, with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal widespread.  The Midwest was fairly dry in January, with most areas near normal or slightly below.  Drought has not been too problematic in the region as the dryness affecting the region is coming during a low demand period.  Drought did expand slightly during the month, covering 12.52 percent of the region compared to 9.46 percent at the start of the month. 

High Plains

Portions of Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota did record slightly above normal precipitation for January.  Most of the rest of the region was near normal or slightly below.  Temperatures were cooler than normal over much of the region, with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal.  Areas of Wyoming, Colorado, western Kansas and North Dakota were warmer than normal, with departures of up to 6 degrees above normal in Colorado and Wyoming. Drought did expand in the region, mainly in Kansas, during the month.  January ended with 43.93 percent of the region in drought compared to 29.19 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought expanded to now cover 13.70 percent of the region, compared to 6.34 at the beginning of the month.  Overall, extreme drought areas decreased slightly as extreme drought was removed from South Dakota and introduced into southern Kansas.  Extreme drought now covers 0.69 percent of the region.


Dry conditions dominated the region, especially the lack of snow.  The Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains were the wettest areas, and they were also the areas recording the most snow.  Some of these areas were 2-3 inches above normal precipitation for January.  Along with the dry conditions, temperatures were well above normal for the region, with departures of up to 9-12 degrees above normal in northern Nevada, southern Idaho, and western Wyoming.  Drought continued to develop and intensify in the region, with 44.29 percent of the region now in drought compared to 29.03 percent at the start of January.  Severe drought increased from 8.60 to 21.57 percent while extreme drought decreased slightly from 1.52 to 0.88 percent of the region as extreme drought was removed from Montana and introduced into Arizona and New Mexico.



January 2018 impact summary: Low snowpack in Southwest affecting recreation, water supplies

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

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Drought intensified in much of the southern United States in January as the warm, dry winter averted the typical winter snowfall for winter recreation and replenishing water supplies.  Many of the 126 impacts in the Drought Impact Reporter for January came from southwestern states, with observers documenting drought-stressed vegetation and the need to water plants to keep them alive.  Colorado had the most impacts for the month with 24, while New Mexico and Texas followed with 18 and 17 impacts, respectively.  Many Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network observers reported needing to water vegetation to keep it alive through the unusually warm weather and noted the lack of snow, as well as other issues, in many of the 57 impacts from CoCoRaHS reports. 

Low snowpack in Colorado, ski resorts hurting

In early January, the Colorado snowpack dwindled to record low levels of 22 percent of normal in southwestern Colorado, but a bit higher in the upper Colorado River Basin and the Arkansas River Basin, where the snowpack was 65 percent and 49 percent of normal, respectively.  By federal authorities’ calculations, even a big late snow may not make up for the poor snowfall so far this winter, although more than half of the snowpack accumulation season remains.

The dearth of snow meant trouble for Colorado’s ski areas as early season skier visits to resorts were down 11 to 13 percent in comparison with the previous year because of low snow conditions, resort operators observed.  Colorado Ski Country USA, representing 23 resorts, reported 13 percent fewer visits at its member operations through Dec. 31.  Another ski operator, Vail Resorts, reported that visits were down 10.8 percent at its North American ski areas, including four in Colorado, through Jan. 8. 

Colorado snowpack worst in more than 30 years in some areas leaving water suppliers on high alert, by Bruce Finley, The Denver Post, Jan. 6, 2018

Colorado skier numbers down amid warm, dry winter, by Associated Press, Fort Collins Coloradoan (Colorado), Jan. 14, 2018

New Mexico ski resorts struggling, snowpack exceedingly low

The snowpack in New Mexico was similar in January as ski areas waited for snow so more runs could be opened for use.  Many resorts were not fully staffed since little snow meant fewer skiers.  At least one resort had not opened as of early January and may not be able to do so without plentiful natural snow. 

Toward the end of January, Ski Santa Fe had about 15 to 20 percent of its normal snow and had not drawn the usual number of skiers.  Skier visits were down about 30 percent so far during the season, according to Ski New Mexico Executive Director George Brooks.  Some resorts were making snow, but the price tag for doing so for 24 hours can range from $3,500 to $10,000, depending on the area involved.

Dry weather impacting New Mexico's snowpack, by Eddie Garcia, KOB 4 (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Jan. 3, 2018

At New Mexico’s snow-challenged ski resorts, mountains of anxiety, by Cynthia Miller and Sami Edge, Santa Fe New Mexican, Jan. 7, 2018

Drought hurting ski areas in New Mexico, by Eddie Garcia, KOB 4 (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Jan. 31, 2018

California experiencing thin snowpack

Although California apparently emerged from drought in the spring of 2017, there has not been ample precipitation since then.  The first manual snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada mountains revealed just 3 percent of normal snowpack in some areas, as the start to the winter season remained unsettlingly dry.  Electronic snow readings in the Sierra Nevada put the average snow water equivalent at 2.6 inches, nearer to 24 percent of the Jan. 3 average.  Thanks to last year’s atmospheric rivers, the state’s reservoirs were still in good shape. 

By the end of January, the snowpack remained worrisome, averaging 27 percent of normal statewide, while the Feb. 1 snow survey revealed less than a third of normal snowpack for the date.  Drought was again expanding in Southern California, covering 44 percent of the state.  The majority of California’s snow typically falls from December through February.

As the winter remained relatively dry, farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys began irrigating in December to make up for the dry start to the water year, which began in October.  Farmers typically do not need to start irrigating until mid-May. 

California’s first 2018 survey finds little snow, by Associated Press, KRON TV NBC 4 (San Francisco), Jan. 3, 2018

Southern California's brief escape from drought ends, by Ellen Knickmeyer and Rich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat (California), Feb. 1, 2018

Long dry spell prompts early irrigations, by Kevin Hecteman, Ag Alert (Sacramento, California), Jan. 10, 2018


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



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