Drought improves in the Plains but hangs on in West
by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist
|This four-week U.S. Drought Monitor change map shows that there has been substantial improvement to drought in the Plains and Texas.
|As of June 24, just 35.03 percent of the contiguous 48 states were in drought, down from 37.93 percent at the beginning of the month. All categories of drought improved during the month.
|The U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows drought likely to improve, particularly in the Plains, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
Several of the drought areas in the central to southern Plains recorded ample precipitation during June, which reduced the extent and intensity of drought. Currently, 35.03 percent of the country is in drought, compared to 37.93 percent at the beginning of June. Severe drought improved to 24.82 from 27.72 percent, extreme drought improved to 11.23 from 13.64 percent, and exceptional drought improved to 2.91 from 3.35 percent. A year ago, more than 43 percent of the country was in drought. Most of the improvement over the last year has been in the Plains and Midwest, while drought has spread and intensified in the West.
Temperatures for June were cooler than normal over much of the northern Rocky Mountains and High Plains, while areas of California and the Southwest were warmer than normal. But June temperatures throughout most of the country were normal or slightly above normal.
An abundance of precipitation quickly eroded drought in many areas of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and portions of South Dakota and Minnesota. Some areas of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa had June rainfall totals which were record or near-record amounts, with several approaching 20 inches for the month. From the northern Rocky Mountains through the Plains and Midwest, most areas had 3-6 inches above normal precipitation for the month. But the Southeast and West were dry, with many areas recording deficits of up to 3 inches.
Outlook: The monthly drought outlook for July continues to show improvements to drought in Kansas and Nebraska as well as improvements in portions of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Drought will persist over the West Coast and southern Plains. If an El Niño weather pattern emerges as forecasters anticipate, the West Coast, the Southwest and southern Plains could start seeing an increase in precipitation in the fall.
Temperatures were above normal for almost the entire Northeast in June, with departures of 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit above normal commonplace. The warmest sectors were in western Pennsylvania and in West Virginia, while the coolest areas were in upper New England. Areas from western Pennsylvania to New York recorded 1.5 to 3 inches above normal precipitation for the month. Areas along the coast were drier, with departures up to 3 inches below normal in portions of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Even with the localized dryness in June, drought issues were nonexistent in the region.
|Movers & Shakers for June 2014
May 27, 2014
June 24, 2014
||Percentage point change
|Biggest increases in drought
| Biggest improvements to drought
The Southeast was one of the warmer sections of the country in June, with most of the area 2-3 degrees above normal for the month. The coolest temperatures were in and along the Gulf Coast and were 1-2 degrees below normal. Much of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas was dry in June, with 2-4 inches below normal precipitation. In contrast, areas of western Tennessee and Mississippi received 4-6 inches above normal precipitation. Even with the localized dryness, drought has not developed in the region and only a few areas were identified as being abnormally dry on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Temperatures were warm in the Midwest in June, with departures of 1-2 degrees above normal quite common. A few areas of Wisconsin saw departures of 2-3 degrees, as did portions of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Rain was the story for June. Almost the entire region was above normal for precipitation for the month and most areas were 3-6 inches above normal. Some areas of extreme northeast Nebraska, extreme southeast South Dakota, northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota were 6 or more inches above normal, with some locations recording close to 20 inches of rain for the month. Drought declined in the region, leaving only 1.91 percent of the area in drought now, compared to 6.47 percent a month ago. There is no longer any severe (or worse) drought in the Midwest; instead, flood concerns are on the rise.
Cool conditions over much of the High Plains, especially the northern reaches, were common in June. Temperatures were 2-4 degrees below normal to the north and near normal to slightly below normal toward the southern extent of the region. As with the Midwest, rain was abundant in June. Almost the entire region east of the Continental Divide was above normal, with some areas 6 or more inches above normal in Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. Drought improved in the region. Only 22.51 percent of the region is still in drought, compared to 33.07 percent last month. Severe drought improved to 11.7 from 21.6 percent of the region, extreme drought improved to 5.23 from 11.43 percent of the region, and exceptional drought was limited to just 0.39 percent of the region and was identified only in southeastern Colorado. All of the Dakotas and Wyoming were drought-free.
Temperatures over the South were mainly normal for June, plus or minus 1 degree, with only areas of far West Texas being 4-6 degrees above normal. Portions of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles recorded 2-4 inches above normal precipitation for the month. Most of Oklahoma received above-normal precipitation, along with much of Arkansas and central to southern Louisiana. Departures from normal were 2-4 inches, with some areas approaching 6 inches above normal for the month. The precipitation decreased the intensity of drought areas in Oklahoma and Texas. Severe drought over the region declined to 27.38 from 34.85 percent, extreme drought improved to cover only 15.14 percent of the region, from 23.9 percent at the start of the month, and exceptional drought improved by 5 percentage points, now only affecting 3.92 percent of the region.
Temperatures over Montana, Idaho, and portions of Oregon were 2-4 degrees below normal for the month. In contrast, almost all of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were 2-4 degrees warmer than normal. It is a dry time of year over the western United States, and most areas were near normal for expected precipitation. Some of the northern areas of Idaho, Washington, and Montana recorded precipitation of 1-2 inches above normal for June. The drought status for the region was fairly stable. Only slight increases in extreme and exceptional drought occurred, as impacts of drought worsened over the region. Currently, 60.2 percent of the region is in drought and 20.35 percent is in extreme drought or worse.
Drought affecting water supply, ag, wildlife and more in western U.S.
by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist
|The Drought Impact Reporter currently shows 123 impacts recorded for the United States for June 2014.
|Impacts related to water supply and quality and to government response each accounted for about 25 percent of the total reported in June 2014.
|California, Texas, New Mexico and Oregon had the most reported impacts in June 2014. Special reporting efforts may be boosting impact numbers in North Carolina.
||Analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed 46 percent of the winter wheat crop in drought as of July 1. Visit the Agriculture in Drought archive.
Drought persisted and intensified across the Western U.S., further tightening water supplies that were already strained and over-committed in areas such as southern Oregon and northern California.
In the southern Great Plains, badly needed precipitation fell, but it was too little, too late, to help the winter wheat, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture to forecast below-average yields.
Wildlife in the Southwest was suffering as drought dried up food and water supplies, driving the animals into residential areas where they could find food. Some animal populations, such as Nevada mule deer and California tricolored blackbirds, have declined.
Fire activity in drought-stricken parts of the U.S. led officials to restrict the use of open fires and fireworks in an effort to reduce the occurrence of wildfires as summer set in and the Fourth of July holiday neared.
River flows boosted to keep salty water out of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began releasing more water from the Nimbus Dam on the American River to push salty water from the San Francisco Bay out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Delta is the source of freshwater for 23 million Californians and 3 million acres of cultivated land. The river's flow increased from 2,000 cubic feet per second to 2,500 cfs. Unusually high tides in the forecast increase the likelihood of salinity intrusion.
Keeping salinity within acceptable standards in the Delta is urgent because it takes weeks to months to flush the salt out and return the salinity to acceptable levels. State law also requires that salinity be controlled for the benefit of water users who take water straight from the Delta.
The California Department of Water Resources began releasing more water from Oroville Reservoir on the Feather River late in the week of June 9 to lower the salinity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also increased releases from Keswick Reservoir on the Sacramento River to bring the Delta salinity down.
“Water flows boosted in American River to block salty incursion to Delta,” The Sacramento Bee, June 17, 2014
Drought exacerbates water problems in Central Valley of California
The lack of rainfall has drawn more attention to the Central Valley’s water problems, where many wells and groundwater supplies tainted with farm chemicals are not suitable for drinking. Drought has made the issue worse with higher concentrations of nitrates, arsenic and other chemicals and poor water quality as groundwater levels decline. Many families pay for water that they will not drink and purchase bottled water for drinking, making their total monthly water bill very high.
“Dried up: poverty in America's drought lands,” Salt Lake City Deseret Morning News, Utah, June 15, 2014
Northern California’s rivers and streams suffering from marijuana growing operations
Marijuana growers in Northern California’s coastal forests were taking so much water from the area’s rivers and streams that the waterways have nearly gone dry. Drought, on top of heavy water use for the water-intensive crop, has made the problem more apparent.
“Study finds medical pot farms draining streams dry,” by Jason Dearen, Associated Press, June 1, 2014
Water conservation in California
Several California cities have fallen short of the 20 percent reduction in water use that Gov. Jerry Brown called for months ago when he declared a drought emergency. Water customers in San Francisco curbed consumption by 8 percent, while water users in San Jose used more water in the first quarter of 2014, compared to last year. East Bay Municipal Utility District customers used 3 percent less water between February and April this year, compared to the last three years.
In defense of the Bay Area, water experts say that the conservation ethic is strong and that people were already conserving water with water-efficient appliances and drought-tolerant plants, making it challenging to cut back further.
More than 75 percent of Californians surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California view the shrinking water supplies as a problem and as many as 92 percent say they have made changes to conserve water.
“California drought: Voluntary cutback falls short in Bay Area,” San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com), June 9, 2014
Oregon Water Resources Department sent shutoff notices to well owners
Shutoff notices were sent by Oregon Water Resources Department because two Klamath Falls wells and 10 private wells were considered to be having “timely and effective” impacts on surface water. One Klamath Falls well that may be shut down serves a medical center, and hospital officials were nervous about reduced water supplies and the prospect of losing water service.
“Council mulls options for drought response,” Klamath Falls Herald and News (Ore.), June 18, 2014
Water shortage in Klamath Basin in Oregon, California
Oregon water masters were considering demands from Klamath Basin farmers and the Klamath Tribes in enforcing senior water rights as drought limits the availability of water, said a spokesperson for the Oregon Water Resources Department. The city of Klamath Falls was ordered to shut down two municipal drinking water wells to leave more water for the Klamath Reclamation Project, serving 1,200 farmers along the Oregon-California border. But Klamath Falls intends to fight the well closure order because state law holds human consumption needs as a higher priority than irrigation, according to the city manager.
“11th-hour pause to water limits,” Bend Bulletin (Ore.), June 13, 2014
“Drought settles in; calls for water begin in southern Oregon's Klamath Basin,” Walla Walla (Wash.) Union-Bulletin, June 4, 2014
Water deal to sustain citrus trees in Tulare County, California
Multiple water agencies cooperated to bring 5,400 acres of water at a cost of $1,200 per acre-foot—about six times the normal price of water—to save thousands of acres of citrus trees in the Terra Bella Irrigation District in Tulare County. The high cost of the water will pay for returning the water to a Kern County water district in the future.
The Terra Bella Irrigation District will repay the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District in Kern County with five acres for every acre borrowed, or 25,000 acre-feet when rainfall returns to normal. The cooperation of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and federal, state and other water agencies and a total of 22 approvals were needed to move the water in the Friant-Kern Canal to Terra Bella. The cooperation among the water agencies is an achievement and shows a willingness to work hard to alleviate damage to agriculture during this intense drought.
“Clever Water trade saves citrus trees in Terra Bella area,” by Mark Grossi, The Fresno (Calif.) Bee, June 5, 2014
Winter wheat production estimates slip
The U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its wheat production estimate downward from its May report as drought continued to hurt winter wheat in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Winter wheat production was estimated to be 1.38 billion bushels, 2 percent lower than the May estimate, and 10 percent lower than last year. The estimate for hard red winter wheat, used for bread-making, was 720 million bushels, 3 percent lower than last month.
"Severe drought conditions in the Southern Plains had a dramatic impact on the winter wheat crop, with poor fields in Oklahoma and Texas being baled for hay or otherwise abandoned," said the crop production report. "Late-month precipitation was beneficial to this area but likely too late to revive drought-stricken wheat."
“USDA: Drought cuts wheat crop; corn, soybeans good,” by David Pitt, Associated Press, June 12, 2014
Drought, climate change threatening grazing on federal lands in western U.S.
Public lands ranchers in the Snake River Plain in Idaho and other parts of the western U.S. are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their herds because drought, sparse vegetation, shorter grazing periods, climate change and related vegetation changes were resulting in less forage. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management sent letters to ranchers, warning them that the range in Idaho cannot support livestock. Ranchers were told to cut herd numbers by 30 percent for the spring turnout.
“Grazing on federal land under threat because of drought,” by Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2014
Businesses cope with challenges during drought
Food companies trying to gain edge during drought, other challenges
Large food companies were buying up smaller ones in an effort to remain competitive as drought, disease and food recalls challenged profitability. Meat company mergers were an especially strategic move as prices for pork, beef and chicken climbed. Beef prices were at record highs, and demand for chicken was at its highest in three years.
“Hillshire takes Tyson deal, drops its own bid for Pinnacle Foods,” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014
Breweries trying to curb water use
MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch have cut back on the amount of water used to produce their beer as drought and wildfires jeopardize water supplies. MillerCoors has cut its water use 9.2 percent since 2012 and has focused its water saving-efforts on Texas, California and Colorado. The company uses sensors to release the right amount of water for irrigation, plants native grasses to limit erosion and runoff, and watches for leaky machinery in its breweries.
“Water woes force big brewers to tighten the tap,” Salt Lake Tribune (Utah), June 11, 2014
Coffee prices rising due to drought in Brazil
Starbucks is the latest company to raise prices on its packaged coffee after drought hurt the coffee crop in Brazil. J.M. Smucker raised prices on its Folgers and Dunkin’ Donuts coffees weeks ago.
“Starbucks to raise prices on some drinks, packaged coffee,” by Lisa Baertlein and Marcy Nicholson, Reuters, June 20, 2014
Drought harming Nevada wildlife
Nevada wildlife was struggling with drought and the related scarcity of their usual food sources. Deer herds in northern Nevada were shrinking, fisheries were on the verge of drying up in the valleys and wildlife were creeping into residential areas, drawn to food and water. More people in the Reno-Sparks area have reported snakes. Bears were roaming in search of food around Lake Tahoe and across the Carson Range because drought reduced the availability of berries and other foods the bears usually eat. Catch limits were lifted at Wildhorse and Willow Creek reservoirs in mid-May to allow anglers to take as many of the fish as possible before the reservoirs become uninhabitable for the fish this summer.
“Lingering drought taking toll on Nevada wildlife,” Sacramento Bee (Calif.), June 24, 2014
Fish moved from American River hatchery in California
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife moved rainbow trout from a hatchery on the American River and fingerling steelhead from a nearby hatchery because it was feared that water temperatures may be too high in early July for the fish to survive. The fish were being released months ahead of schedule and were smaller than they would normally be when released, which likely means that fewer fish will survive.
“Fish evacuated from American River hatcheries due to drought,” Fresno Bee (Calif.), June 17, 2014
Tricolored blackbird population declining in California
A recent survey of tricolored blackbirds throughout California showed a steep decline in the birds’ population, a decrease of 44 percent since 2011. The survey was done by UC Davis, Audubon California and state and national wildlife agencies. Drops in the birds’ population were noted from the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys south to Riverside County. The survey conducted this spring found 145,000 tricolored blackbirds, compared to 260,000 in 2011.
“Plunge of tricolored blackbird population persists in the state, Sacramento Valley,” Sacramento Bee (Calif.), June 20, 2014
Drought benefits for California coho salmon, oak trees, prospectors
Record coho salmon migration in Marin County, California
Despite the drought, nearly 20,000 coho salmon migrated out of Lagunitas Creek to the ocean in Marin County. This was the largest salmon migration recorded in Lagunitas Creek since scientists began estimating fish numbers in 2006. The previous record was 11,000 coho in 2012. The number of fish was surprising because the lower water levels cut into the number of fish able to reproduce by laying eggs in creeks and tributaries along the Central California coast. The juveniles would normally swim into the lower reaches of the Lagunitas Creek in late fall and winter, but were prevented from doing so by drought and low water flows. The fish that remained upstream plus the fish present in the lower stretches of Lagunitas Creek resulted in an overall larger coho population.
“Drought helps coho salmon set migration record,” San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com), June 24, 2014
Sudden oak death slowed by drought
Drought has slowed the advance of sudden oak death, a disease which has killed thousands of mighty oak trees in California, by limiting the number of spores that spread the disease. The rate of infection among California bay laurel trees tested in 17 counties between Fort Bragg, South Carolina, and San Luis Obispo ranged from 2 to 10 percent between April 4 and June 5. In wetter years, the infection rate ranges from 20 to 80 percent.
“Sudden oak death drying up with drought,” San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com), June 22, 2014
Panning for California gold
More people were prospecting for gold in California’s rivers as drought allowed access to sections of river that were previously too deep for prospecting. Mining supply stores in Sacramento, Auburn and Bakersfield have seen an uptick in business as people picked up the needed supplies to strike it rich. Even desert prospectors have grabbed their metal detectors to look for gold in areas that have been dry for years.
“Drought brings out the gold prospectors in California,” Redding Record Searchlight (Calif.), June 5, 2014
Fire restrictions in California
Cal Fire issued a backyard burn ban for 31 million acres of land under state jurisdiction. "The increase in fire activity this year, coupled with record-setting drought conditions, requires us to take every step possible to prevent new wildfires from starting," said Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott. Since the start of the year, Cal Fire has responded to 2,118 fires, nearly 70 percent more than in recent years.
“Calfire orders burn ban,” Napa Valley Register (Calif.), June 23, 2014
Fire, fireworks restrictions in the South, Southwest
With the Fourth of July holiday on the horizon, many communities in the South and Southwest assessed drought and fire danger and chose to restrict open fires and fireworks to reduce the likelihood of wildfires.
CoCoRaHS observers say crops suffering from dry weather in North Carolina
Caswell County, North Carolina, corn and tobacco crops in poor condition
Supplemental report - had the opportunity to ride through a good portion of Caswell, Rockingham, and Guilford counties in North Carolina. The crops look terrible. In corn fields about a third never germinated and what did come up is stunted. Tobacco plants are not much larger than transplants. Only saw one tobacco field that looked anywhere near acceptable. Very dry. We saw quite a bit of irrigation in progress.
CoCoRaHS Report from Station #Milton 5.7 SSE on 6/22/2014