Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

July 2015 Drought and Impact Summary

West remained mostly dry in July, Southeast getting drier


By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


The overall amount of drought in the contiguous United States did not change much in July, with 25.71 percent of the country in drought at the end of the month, compared to 25.88 percent at the end of June. Severe drought expanded from 15.54 percent on June 30 to 17.17 percent on July 28 and extreme drought expanded from 6.76 to 8.79 percent. Exceptional drought areas improved slightly from 2.86 to 2.83 percent of the country. The main center of drought remained over the western United States, while dryness over the Southeast started to develop into a more pronounced area of drought. At the end of July, 75.8 million people were in drought-affected areas, compared to 77 million people at the end of June. More than 20 million people were experiencing exceptional drought conditions.

Puerto Rico has continued to see drought expand and intensify. Extreme drought now covers 12.40 percent of Puerto Rico, the first time D3 has been introduced on the island. Almost half (49.36 percent) of Puerto Rico was in drought at the end of July.

Drought Outlook

For August, there are no changes anticipated for the drought in most of the western United States, except for the potential for some relief over Arizona and New Mexico from the seasonal monsoon. Drought is likely to develop over portions of southern and eastern Texas as well as Louisiana and western Mississippi. Drought is anticipated to remain over the Carolinas with some potential for intensification. The drought conditions in southern Florida are likely to improve, but on Puerto Rico, the drought will continue and intensify.


Temperatures were 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal over much of the southern Plains and Southeast. The Pacific Northwest remained hot, with departures of 4-6 degrees above normal over Washington, Oregon and northern California. Much of the West, central Plains, Midwest, and New England were cooler than normal with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal in the West and Midwest. The interior of Alaska was 1-2 degrees cooler than normal in July, while coastal regions were 1-3 degrees warmer than normal. Warm temperatures dominated Hawaii, with most areas 2-4 degrees above normal for the month.


Most of the West, Plains and Midwest were wetter than normal in July. The greatest departures were in eastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri and Kentucky, where some areas got 6-9 inches more than usual. Portions of the Florida Gulf Coast were 3-6 inches wetter than usual. But dry conditions dominated much of the Gulf Coast from Texas to Louisiana where rainfall totals were 3-6 inches below normal for July. Precipitation in Alaska was mixed, from 3 inches above normal along the southern and interior portions of the state to 3 inches below normal along the western and northern coasts.

Movers & Shakers for July 2015

Percent area
June 30, 2015
Percent area
July 28, 2015
Status Percentage point change

Biggest increases in drought
9.59 20.05 moderate 10.46
Georgia 13.56 22.88 moderate 9.32
Idaho 82.11 86.63 moderate 4.52
44.66 51.71 severe 7.05
6.29 22.20 extreme 15.91
Montana 16.23 23.50 severe 7.27
0.00 13.95 extreme 13.95
Oregon 83.66 100.00 severe 16.34
34.09 48.31 extreme 14.22
Puerto Rico

39.55 49.36 moderate 9.81
14.68 38.27 severe 23.59
0.00 12.40 extreme 12.40
South Carolina
27.30 47.53 moderate 20.23
Washington 92.52 100.00 moderate 7.48
45.79 99.99 severe 54.20
0.00 31.74 extreme 31.74
Biggest improvements in drought
14.35 9.37 moderate 4.98
Arizona 24.56 9.57 severe 14.99
Massachusetts 11.57 0.00 moderate 11.57
Montana 40.56 35.70 moderate 4.86
Nevada 47.52 39.86 extreme 7.66
New Mexico
4.12 0.27 severe
New York
7.46 2.52 moderate 4.94
Tennessee 9.86 0.00 moderate 9.86

Regional Overviews


Temperatures were mixed over the region, with the warmest readings along the coast. Temperatures ranged from 2 degrees above normal on Long Island and Massachusetts to 2 degrees below normal over western New York and Maine. Dry conditions dominated the region, with most areas 1-3 inches below normal for July, although portions of northern Maine and central Pennsylvania were 1-2 inches above normal. Even with the dry conditions, areas in drought improved slightly in July, with only 2.25 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 3.92 percent at the end of June.


Most of the region recorded temperatures 2-4 degrees warmer than normal in July, with the warmest readings over southern Mississippi. The majority of the region was drier than normal in July, with portions of south Florida, southern North Carolina and portions of Georgia 3-6 inches below normal for the month. Along the Gulf Coast of Florida, rainfall was 6-9 inches above normal, as were portions of Tennessee. Drought expanded during July, mostly in the Carolinas. Drought covered 17.88 percent of the region at the end of July, compared to 14.92 percent at the end of June. Severe drought expanded from 1.60 to 2.24 percent of the region and D3 was introduced into south Florida.


The far upper Midwest and the southern portions of the region were 3-4 degrees warmer than normal, while the rest of the area was 2-3 degrees cooler than normal. The southern and western portions of the region were 3-6 inches wetter than normal, while much of the northern part of the region was up to 3 inches drier than normal for July. Drought was not of much concern in the Midwest, with no drought at the end of July and only a few pockets of dryness in the upper Midwest.

High Plains

Temperatures were 3-4 degrees cooler than normal over portions of Nebraska and South Dakota in July. Kansas and North Dakota were 2-4 degrees warmer than normal. Most of the region recorded up to 3 inches more precipitation than usual in July. Only 0.67 percent of the region was in drought at the end of July compared to 1.38 percent at the end of June.


July was warmer than normal over much of the region, with departures of 2-4 degrees above normal common. Portions of the Texas Panhandle and most of Oklahoma received up to 6 inches more precipitation than usual in July, and a small area in eastern Oklahoma received as much as 12 inches more rain than usual. But much of Texas and Louisiana was dry in July, by 3-6 inches in the coastal regions. Drought was not of too much concern in the region. Texas was drought-free for two weeks in July, but drought returned to a small area in eastern Texas on July 28.  


Temperatures 2-4 degrees cooler than normal were common from southern California up to Wyoming. But Washington, northern and western Oregon, and northern California were 4-6 degrees warmer than normal in July. Outside of the Pacific Northwest, most of the West saw normal to slightly above-normal precipitation in July, with the greatest amounts recorded over northern Montana, eastern Arizona, and portions of New Mexico, where amounts were in the 3-5 inch range. The heat and dryness led to intensification of drought in the Northwest. Drought was affecting 60.09 percent of the region on July 28 compared to 60.38 percent at the end of June. Severe drought expanded from 39.01 to 42.99 percent of the region, extreme drought expanded from 17.13 to 22.24 percent of the region, and exceptional drought decreased from 7.26 to 7.17 percent of the region.


July 2015 Impacts: Dwindling stream flow, dry conditions, low water supplies shaping summer in the West

California, Washington and Oregon were the states with the most impacts logged in the Drought Impact Reporter for July. Impact reporting efforts in the Carolinas are boosted by an active cadre of CoCoRaHS volunteers, recruited and trained by CISA.
The categories of impacts most frequently reported were Water Supply & Quality, nearly a quarter of the total, and government responses, over a fifth. Environmental impacts and Agriculture were the next most frequently reported categories.
Of the 218 impacts reported in July, 175 were based on media reports, 42 on CoCoRaHS reports, 3 on various agency reports, 2 were from general users, and 1 was from a Hawaii user.
This chart from the California Department of Water Resources shows that as of Aug. 2, the state's major reservoirs were well below capacity and historic averages.

The charts above, also from CDWR, compare precipitation so far for this water year with the historic average and with the wettest and driest years on record for two of the state's monitoring regions. This year is one of the driest on record.

By Denise Gutzmer, Drought Impact Specialist

Stubborn drought in the West hung on and intensified in the Inland Northwest in July as the fire season ramped up along the West Coast. Stream flows dropped to record and near-record levels, threatening fish and leading to fishing restrictions. Many communities were observing water restrictions to protect water resources for drinking and firefighting. At least 218 impacts were added to the Drought Impact Reporter for July, with 82 for California, 40 for Washington and 26 for Oregon.

California water issues

Californians in aggregate meet conservation goals but some agencies fall short

Californians curbed their water use in June by 27 percent, according to the State Water Resources Control Board, exceeding the governor’s demand for 25 percent water conservation. Conservation efforts were strong in May, too, when savings reached 29 percent.

Of the 400 individual conservation targets assigned to the state’s largest water agencies, about two-thirds successfully made their goals. June was the first month for the individual water goals, which water agencies had previously protested were too severe. Sixteen agencies—mostly in central or southern California—missed their conservation target by more than 15 percentage points. One small Central Valley community, ordered to cut water use by 32 percent, only lowered its water use by 3 percent. Another 71 water agencies in the state missed their goals by 5 to 15 percentage points, while 53 water providers fell short of their targets by 1 to 5 percent.

State reduced water use 27 percent in June, hitting conservation target,” by Phillip Reese and Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), July 30, 2015

Court order slows water rights curtailments

California regulators violated farmers’ rights by ordering mandatory water curtailments without allowing a prior hearing, ruled a Sacramento Superior Court judge. The judge issued a temporary order restraining the state from penalizing four Central Valley districts for disregarding curtailment notices.

After the judge’s ruling, the State Water Resources Control Board reissued notices to 4,600 California water rights holders, telling them to end diversions from the state’s rivers and streams. The letters have a softer tone, letting users know that they “should be aware that they may be subject to enforcement if they do not stop diversions (from rivers) due to insufficient water supply.” The letters are not enforcement documents or legal orders, as the initial notices seemed to be.

Judge in drought-hit California blocks water cut orders for some farmers,” by Victoria Cavaliere, Reuters (New York), July 13, 2015

California regulators, after setback, issue new water rights curtailments,” by Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), July 15, 2015

Water conservation tactic stymied

The California Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling, making it unconstitutional for water providers to charge more for water than it costs to provide the service. California water officials urged the Supreme Court to “depublish” the ruling to allow water providers to punish water wasters with higher water rates and encourage conservation as Gov. Jerry Brown had urged agencies to do. Water agencies must find other ways to promote conservation.

California drought: High court hands setback to water conservation fight,” by Howard Mintz, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), July 23, 2015

Record fine imposed on senior rights holder

The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District in the eastern San Francisco Bay area may be fined $1.5 million for taking more water than it is entitled to take, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. State regulators say their records show that the water district took water from a pumping plant after receiving warning that the district could not legally take the water, despite its senior water rights. If the fine stands, it would be the first against a holder of a claim dating back more than a century.

California proposes historic $1.5M fine for taking water,” by Fenit Nirappil, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle (, July 20, 2015

Funds to assist drought-affected unemployed in California

The Department of Labor offered $18 million in grant funding for the 18,000 Californians thought to be experiencing drought-related unemployment. As many as 1,000 workers will be hired for up to six months to remove dead vegetation to prevent fires and mudslides, and to upgrade and repair public facilities damaged by drought. The funds will also benefit youth in drought-affected households and the long-term unemployed.

$18 million in grant funding for California workers jobless from drought,” by Sarah Anderson, The Fresno Bee (Calif.), July 21, 2015

Mexican consul general to assist unemployed

Mexican farm workers in California, unable to find work and suffering hardship due to drought, can receive emergency rent assistance, clothing and food, and could even be flown back to Mexico if they wish, stated the Mexican consul general. Her jurisdiction includes 922,143 Mexican immigrants in 24 northern and central California counties.

Sacramento’s new Mexican consul to help drought-stricken farmworkers,” by Stephen Magagnini, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), July 19, 2015

Pacific Northwest

Water conservation imposed for communities, irrigators and agencies

Low surface water supplies were triggering a spate of water conservation measures in Washington and Oregon to prolong water supplies. In Washington, 129 senior irrigation rights holders on tributaries of the Yakima River with rights dating back to 1873—16 years before Washington became a state—were shut off. A drought advisory was issued for water customers in Everett, Seattle and Tacoma. In eastern Washington, 16 percent of the Spokane River was treated effluent as drought and lower flows changed the ratio of effluent to river water.

In Oregon, the governor ordered state agencies to limit water consumption by an average of 15 percent or more at all state-owned facilities on or before Dec. 31, 2020. In Lane County in west central Oregon, several communities were also striving to conserve. Mandatory water restrictions took effect in Oakridge after the community well was discovered to be 23 feet below normal for late July. Junction City also had mandatory restrictions, and about a dozen local governments requested voluntary conservation.

“Irrigators drawing water from Yakima River tributaries definitely feeling the drought,” Sunnyside Daily Sun News (Wash.), July 27, 2015

Drought prompts water-use advisories in Everett, Seattle and Tacoma,” by Chris Winters, The Everett Herald (Wash.), July 28, 2015 

Effluent levels in Spokane River higher due to drought,” by Jeff Humphrey, (Spokane, Wash.), July 30, 2015

Oregon Governor orders state agencies to reduce water consumption,” by Shelby Sebens, Reuters, July 28, 2015

Oakridge imposing water restrictions,” by Associated Press, The Bulletin (Bend, Ore.), July 30, 2015

Fish threatened by low water in Washington, Oregon

Fishing was prohibited or limited on more than 30 rivers in Washington until further notice, to protect fish amid ongoing drought. River levels were low and water temperatures warm after a winter of little snowpack and runoff. Sturgeon fishing was temporarily prohibited on the Columbia River upstream of the Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam, due to an increase in drought-related sturgeon mortality in some mid-Columbia River reservoirs.

In Oregon, afternoon fishing on most rivers and creeks was suspended by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, due to the low water levels and warm water temperatures. The lower Willamette, lower Clackamas and sections of the John Day rivers were completely closed to fishing. Several fish die-offs have already occurred across the state.

Washington restricts fishing on many rivers due to drought,” by Associated Press, The Everett Herald (Wash.), July 16, 2015

 “Afternoon fishing to be shut down on Oregon rivers,” by Zach Urness, Salem Statesman-Journal (Ore.), July 17, 2015

Wildfire activity

Wildfire season off to an intense start

Wildfires have blackened 5.5 million acres in the U.S. since the start of the year, far above the average for this time of year of 3.5 million acres. In the last 25 years, only 2011 saw more fire activity, with 5.8 million acres of scorched land, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Alaska saw 4.7 million acres burn this year, due to low snowpack during the winter and a hot, dry spell from May into July.

Through Aug. 1, California endured 4,201 wildfires that consumed 100,000 acres, much higher than the five-year average of 2,729 fires burning 48,153 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The warm, dry winter has left vegetation parched and ready to burn. Lightning strikes sparked numerous fires in northern California toward the end of July.

The Rocky Fire had burned 69,000 acres in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties and destroyed 43 homes and 53 outbuildings as of August 6. The fire has moved rapidly, bursting through containment lines and driving many thousands of people from their homes. The extreme fire behavior exhibited by this blaze was not predicted by models and computer simulations.

Scorched earth: U.S. wildfires near record level,” by Doyle Rice, USA Today, July 27, 2015

Aug. 3 Situation Report, National Interagency Fire Center

Rocky Fire report from Cal Fire 

“Thunderstorms may challenge firefighters battling 65,000-acre Rocky fire,” by Chris Megerian, Kurt Chirbas and Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 2015

Water concerns in the Carolinas

Cities urge water conservation as Catawba-Wateree River Basin hits low-flow benchmarks

The Catawba-Wateree River Basin in North and South Carolina entered Stage 0 of the Low Inflow Protocol in early July, due to dry weather and warm temperatures, but moved to Stage 1 on July 20 as water storage and stream flows decreased. A number of communities, including Charlotte, Concord and Kannapolis, were urged to conserve water voluntarily.

“Warm conditions, low stream flow puts Catawba-Wateree basin in drought watch,” The News Herald (Morganton, N.C.), July 5, 2015

Catawba County’s drought status worsens,” Hickory Daily Record (N. C.), July 21, 2015

“Charlotte asks water customers to conserve,” by Associated Press, WNCN-TV NBC 17 (Raleigh, N.C.), July 21, 2015

“Concord, Kannapolis enact voluntary water restrictions,” Concord & Kannapolis Independent Tribune (N.C.), July 20, 2015

South Carolina alerted to spreading drought

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee considered all of the state to be in incipient or moderate drought as of mid-July, conditions having deteriorated since late June when 28 counties were considered to be in incipient drought.

“Residents of 28 SC counties asked to conserve water,” by Associated Press, Aiken Standard (S.C.), June 24, 2015

All of South Carolina now under drought status,” by Robert Joseph Baker, The Manning Times (S.C.), July 17, 2015


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