Thursday, April 24, 2014

National Drought Mitigation Center

July 2013 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought Summary: East-West split continues, with drought intensity easing but spreading

  The July 30 U.S. Drought Monitor shows 45.64 percent of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse.
  This map shows areas that have gotten worse, better and stayed the same on the U.S. Drought Monitor for the four weeks ending July 30, 2013.
  This map shows changes in drought status for the 13 weeks ending July 30. These change maps are generated by the National Drought Mitigation Center.
  This map shows changes in U.S. Drought Monitor status from the start of the calendar year through July 30.
  This map shows changes in the U.S. Drought Monitor map from the start of the water year (October 1, 2012) through July 30.
  At the beginning of July, 44.06 of the contiguous United States was in moderate drought or worse.

By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

The pattern established earlier this year continued in July, with the eastern United States having a very wet month, and the West continuing to be dry. The intensity of long-term drought eased a little in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Utah. Moderate drought returned to Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.

July began with 44.06 percent of the contiguous United States in drought and ended with 45.64 in drought for an increase of about 1.5 percent. Even with the overall increase in drought, the area in extreme and exceptional drought decreased during the month, going from 13.57 percent to 11.8 percent. Last year at this time, 62.91 percent of the United States was in drought, with extreme heat compounding the effects of little rain.

The East is having a wet summer, with many areas in the Southeast recording more than 200 percent of normal precipitation for the month. After a wet start to the growing season, areas of the Midwest and Plains were dry during July. Portions of western Iowa and southern Minnesota recorded less than 25 percent of normal precipitation for the month. The dryness extended into much of eastern Nebraska, eastern North Dakota and most of Wisconsin. On the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, the summer dryness continued, with most of the region recording less than 5 percent of normal precipitation for the month. The monsoon season started in the Southwest. Many scattered precipitation events reached into portions of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas and brought the first significant rains in quite some time.

July temperatures were well below normal over much of the eastern half of the country. The coolest temperatures were recorded over the Mississippi River Valley where departures were 4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the month. Except for New England, most areas to the east of the Rocky Mountains were 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the month. In contrast, the West was hot, with most areas 2-4 degrees above normal, and portions of northern Nevada, eastern Oregon, and southern Idaho, 4-6 degrees above normal. In New England, temperatures were also warm, with most areas 2-4 degrees above normal in July.

Movers & Shakers

State Percent area
July 2, 2013
Percent  area July 30, 2013
Status

Biggest Decreases in Drought

New Mexico 42.77 24.84 Exceptional
New Mexico
92.58
73.55 Extreme or Exceptional
Texas 12.2 5.65 Exceptional
Kansas 74.56 63.98 Moderate or worse

Biggest Increases in Drought

Arkansas 0 47.17 Moderate or worse
Louisiana 0 20.08 Moderate or worse
Missouri 0 12.55 Moderate or worse
Idaho 17.51 43.13 Severe or worse

Regional Highlights

Midwest

Below-normal precipitation for much of northern Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana brought with it an expansion of abnormally dry conditions and drought in July. The below-normal temperatures helped to ease the impact of the dryness. Much of the region was 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the month. Drought expanded to 2.05 percent of the region during the month and abnormally dry conditions now affect 18.90 percent of the area.

High Plains

As with much of the Midwest, the High Plains were mainly dry during July but cooler temperatures helped. Less than 1 inch of precipitation was recorded in far eastern Nebraska, central Wyoming and central North Dakota during July. Temperatures were 1-3 degrees below normal for the month. Drought conditions improved slightly, with 64.24 percent of the region in drought at the end compared to 66.68 percent at the beginning of the month.

South

Many areas of the region saw above-normal precipitation for the month. Portions of West Texas and Oklahoma recorded more than 4 inches of rain, with central Oklahoma recording up to 10 inches. Conditions were not as good in southern Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, where it was as much 4 inches drier than normal. Fortunately it was cool, with much of the region 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the month. As drought conditions eased in west Texas and Oklahoma, drought expanded into Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. During July, drought increased from 49.62 to 56.40 percent of the region. At the same time, extreme to exceptional drought decreased in the area, from 20.00 percent to 16.20 percent.

West

The monsoon moisture has been beneficial for many areas in the Southwest, bringing relief to Utah and Colorado as well. Some places in New Mexico and Arizona recorded up to 5 inches of rain in July. Outside the influence of the monsoons, moisture was very limited and almost nonexistent. Much of the West Coast including inland Oregon and Washington received no rain for the month. It was hot, too, with departures of 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal common, and in the Great Basin, as much as  6-8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Drought expanded slightly during July with 77.52 percent of the West in drought at the end of the month compared to 76.67 percent at the beginning of the month. Extreme and exceptional drought decreased from 20.18 percent to 17.59 percent, mainly in New Mexico and Arizona.

Outlook

The outlook shows strong monsoon precipitation continuing in the Southwest and portions of Colorado. Drought will probably improve in these areas and in the central Plains. But drought is likely to persist in parts of the West and the northern and southern Plains.

Impact Summary: Crop yields lower, irrigation curtailed, fish stressed, drinking water imperiled

  None of the 157 drought impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter in July were from the eastern states.
  A swath of counties in the south-central United States were approved for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve program lands, due to drought.
  This map from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that streamflow in July 2013 was well below average across the West, compared with previous July readings.
  The dominant impact categories for July were Agriculture, Plants & Wildlife, and Water Supply & Quality.
  Texas led the nation in impacts recorded during July.
  All information enters the the Drought Impact Reporter as a report. Moderators create impacts. Report categories mirrored impacts.
by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Agriculture

Midwestern farmers worried about their crop yields as the weather turned drier in July. Drought took a toll on many crops west of the Mississippi River, lowering hay yields and reducing pasture production in many parts of the West. Some parts of western Oklahoma were seeing their third year of not being able to grow cotton, due to dry conditions. [1]

National feedlot placements in June dropped 5 percent as drought, poor pasture conditions and limited water supplies led livestock producers to continue to sell cattle. June feedlot placements in Iowa were down 23 percent, compared to June 2012, and were 9 percent lower in Kansas. The total feedlot population in the U.S. was 3 percent lower than a year ago and sales to slaughterhouses were 4 percent lower. [2]

Pastures, grazing, hay

Pastures turned brown in northwestern Arkansas, slowing the growth of hay. Some cattle in the area died from blackleg, a bacterial infection that can take hold during drought. [3]

Drought cut hay production in Colorado, driving hay prices higher. Many horse owners have no choice but to sell, euthanize or send the animals to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. The chief of Colorado's Bureau of Animal Protection said that hay, which used to cost $120 per ton, sells for $250 to $350 per ton. [4]

The Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico postponed the opening of grazing allotments in the high country due to drought. Farmers had to keep buying expensive feed. Alfalfa growth was curbed by the dry conditions. [5]

Dry conditions in California are cutting the carrying capacity of pastures and rangeland, prompting producers to thin their herds. [6]

Hay production in Alaska was just 25 to 50 percent of normal near Palmer in the south central part of the state. [7]

Much of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Texas and parts of Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, California, Minnesota and Wisconsin were cleared for emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands, due to drought and poor grass production. [8]

Water Supply & Quality

Ongoing drought diminished water supplies throughout the western U.S., curbing municipal and irrigation supplies and reducing flow in some rivers.

Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Nevada

Low water level s and high temperatures have affected fish populations, with a variety of responses and results. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks enacted “hoot-owl” fishing restrictions on the Bitterroot River and others, only allowing catch-and-release fishing in the cooler morning hours, to reduce compounding fish stress from low, warm water. Other areas closed to fishing. [9] In Utah, heat and low water levels at Strawberry Reservoir southeast of Salt Lake City led to a fish kill involving about 600 dead fish in the Ladders area of the lake, said a state biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources. [10] The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission OK’d harvesting fish for personal consumption that were caught in pools of warming water along a low stretch of the Platte River. Permitted methods included hook-and-line, snagging, hand fishing, legal minnow seines, nets, spearing and archery. Permits were required. [11] The Roaring Fork Conservancy in Colorado held its Hot Spots for Trout program, asking volunteers to help measure and report river temperatures. [12]

California

Water supplies were lower than normal in much of the West as drought continued. In California, the Water Resources Control Board warned water rights holders in the Sacramento Valley that curtailments may be in the offing, given the low runoff, if there wasn’t more water conservation. Even senior water rights holders could be affected by curtailment orders. The last time those with riparian and pre-1914 water rights faced curtailments was during the 1976-77 drought. [13]

The Kings River, in southern California, stopped flowing, and some stretches were being used as an illegal off-road trail this year rather than as a nice, cool stretch of river for floating. [14]

Iowa

Nitrate levels have been high in Iowa rivers since April as rain washed nitrates from fertilizer into rivers. Drought in 2012 kept crops from using it, and spring rains and runoff washed nutrients into area rivers, raising nitrate levels to about twice the allowable level in the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. The city of Des Moines has been using an emergency backup supply from Maffit Lake to stay in compliance with limits enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency. [15]

Gulf of Mexico

The 2013 dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was larger than usual and twice as big as last year’s dead zone. The dead zone is caused primarily by nitrogen-based fertilizers from fields in the Midwest, which create algal blooms. Dead fish, stingrays, crabs and shrimp by the thousands have washed ashore in Mississippi. [16]

Texas

At least a dozen water districts in Texas were within 45 days of running out of water in late July, while another dozen had a 90-day supply left. Rivers and lakes were reaching their lowest levels for this time of year since 1990 after record drought in 2011 dramatically reduced water supplies, which have not recovered. Roughly 22 percent of the 4,660 public water suppliers in Texas had voluntary or mandatory water restrictions in effect near the end of July. Lake levels around Odessa remained very low, with Lake Thomas at 2 percent of capacity, Lake Spence at 5.7 percent and Lake Ivie at 17 percent. [17]

New Mexico

Water was scarce in New Mexico after little snow fell during the winter, leaving minimal supplies for irrigation. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District ran out of water for the 2013 irrigation season. The 11,000 farmers in the middle Rio Grande Valley who produce crops worth about $100 million in a normal year had to rely on wells and rain for water. [18]

Irrigation water from the Elephant Butte Reservoir on the Lower Rio Grande River began flowing on June 1 and was scheduled to end on July 14, making this the shortest irrigation season ever for the district. The reservoir was at 3.1 percent of capacity as of July 9, lower than it has been in 40 years. Growers received just 6 percent of a full allotment. [19]

Wildfires

Wildfires continued to burn in the western U.S. and Alaska in July. Dry conditions and other factors led experts to predict that 2013 could be a severe fire season, but that has not yet come to pass, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center. Through Aug. 8, there were 29,205 wildfires that burned 2,558,081 acres. The ten-year year-to-date average is 49,345 wildfires and 4,586,259 acres burned. [20]

Looking back

The full effects of the historic drought of 2012 continue to emerge. The historical drought of 2012 brought record grain prices and limited water supplies, leading farmers to adapt their normal practices.

Wheat as a substitute feed

The drought-diminished corn crop in 2012 pushed up the demand for wheat as a substitute feed grain. In the 2012-2013 marketing year, which ended on May 31, 2013, 360 million bushels were used for feed, the largest amount since 1998-1999, when 391 million bushels were used for feed. The high cost of wheat in 2012 encouraged farmers to plant 700,000 more acres in wheat in 2013 than in 2012, but drought in the Southern Plains drove up abandonment rates and cut yields, leading to projections for a smaller U.S. wheat crop for 2013 compared to 2012. [21]

Fragile land to cropland trend

High crop prices stemming from drought in 2012 and historic crop insurance payouts of more than $17 billion led farmers to expand cultivation on fragile lands, including erodible lands and wetlands that provide valuable habitat for many species. The largest conversion from fragile land to cropland occurred in northern Plains counties, according to the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy group which opposes the changes. Thirty-nine percent of the wetland conversion happened in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, while more than 50 percent of the plowing of fragile lands occurred in ten states in the Great Plains and western Corn Belt. [22]

The value of irrigation in Nebraska in 2012

Nebraska farmers’ irrigation capability brought $11 billion into the state’s economy in 2012, according to figures released by the Nebraska Farm Bureau, which evaluated the importance of irrigation to the state during one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. The study gave an estimate of irrigated agriculture’s total effect on the Nebraska economy in 2012 by comparing the economic activity of farmers and ranchers with and without irrigation capabilities in 2012. The study also found that not having irrigation would have meant the elimination of 31,221 jobs, with more than one-third of those jobs not directly related to crop production, including real estate, food service, wholesale trade and other businesses. The study found that each inch of water put on Nebraska cropland creates about $100 in economic benefit. Decision Innovation Solutions, based in Des Moines, Iowa, performed the study. [23]

Footnotes 

1 “Despite Rainfall, Drought Continues Across Oklahoma,” KOTV-TV CBS 6 Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 20.

2Kansas feedlot placements drop to lowest level since 1994,” by Megan Hart, Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal, July 29.

3At least 2 cows die due to blackleg disease,” Associated Press and KTHV-TV CBS 11 Little Rock, Arkansas, July 19.

4Drought, hay prices putting pressure on horse owners,” by Howard Pankratz, Denver (Colorado) Post, July 7.

5Drought threatens viability of Taos ranching,” by J.R. Logan, Taos (New Mexico) News, July 15. 

6Poor grass production hurts California cattle ranchers,” by Ching Lee, Drovers Cattle Network (Kansas), July 9.

7Warm, Dry Summer Hurting Local Hay Farmers,” by Abby Hancock, Channel 2 News, KTUU.com, July 28.

8Counties Approved For Emergency Haying and Grazing As of August 5, 2013,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

9Bitterroot Valley irrigators quickly running out of water,” by Perry Backus, Missoula (Montana) Missoulian, July 28, 2013.

Lower Big Hole River closes to fishing until conditions improve,” The Montana Standard, July 31, 2013. 

10Fish kill at reservoir tied to drought,” Associated Press, Arizona Daily Star, July 21, 2013.

11Drought prompts fish harvesting from Platte River,” by Nancy Gaarder, Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald, July 17, 2013.

12 “Volunteers help Roaring Fork Conservancy track river temps,” Post Independent (Colorado), July 16, 2013.

13Senior water rights holders may face restrictions due to drought,” by Matt Weiser, Sacramento (California) Bee, July 17.

14Kings high and dry with nowhere to go,” by Seth Nidever and Joe Johnson, Hanford (California) Sentinel, July 30.  

15City monitoring water for potentially dangerous nitrates,” July 2, KCCI News 8.

16Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ puts seafood industry at risk,” by Chip Reid, CBS, July 30. 

17Texas’ ongoing drought keeping lake levels down,” by Betsy Blaney, Associated Press, GO San Angelo/San Angelo (Texas) Standard Times, July 24. 

Drought continues,” by Michelle Brownstone, Odessa (Texas) American, July 28.

18Irrigation water runs out for local farmers,” by Stuart Dyson, KOB-TV NBC 4 (NM), July 1. 

19Drought watch: lower Rio Grande irrigation shutting down,” by John Fleck, Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal, July 9.

20 National Interagency Fire Center, accessed August 8, 2013.

21Record wheat price reached in 2012-13 season,” by Mark Welch, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Economist, Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News, July 21. 

22High Crop Prices and Insurance Seen Leading to U.S. Catastrophe,” by Alan Bjerga, Washington (D.C.) Post, July 30.

23Study: Irrigation means $11 billion to state economy,” by Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Kearney (Nebraska) Hub, July 24. 

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