Tuesday, August 22, 2017

National Drought Mitigation Center

June 2015 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought recedes in Intermountain West, intensifies in Pacific Northwest



 
 
   

By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

Drought

Drought conditions expanded slightly across the U.S. in June. The month ended with 25.88 percent of the contiguous 48 states in drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor, compared to 24.57 percent at the beginning of the month. Severe drought expanded from 14.19 to 15.54 percent, extreme drought improved from 7.09 to 6.76 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 3.13 to 2.86 percent. While areas of the Four Corners improved as much as three levels in June, parts of the Pacific Northwest got worse by two or three levels. Drought continued to develop both in Alaska and on Puerto Rico, with June 2 marking the first-ever introduction of severe drought on Puerto Rico in the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. At the end of June, 79.5 million people were in drought in the entire United States and Puerto Rico, compared to 72.3 million people at the beginning of the month.

Outlook

The drought in the West is likely to persist through July, with possible expansion or intensification over portions of the Pacific Northwest and into western Montana. Improvements may take place in the Southwest and New England. Drought may continue to develop and persist over the Southeast and Florida. Further drought development may take place over Hawaii and Puerto Rico as well as in the interior of Alaska.

Temperatures

Warmer-than-normal temperatures continued over much of the western United States during June with cooler-than-normal readings over parts of the upper Midwest, New England and south Texas. Departures for June were 8-10 degrees above normal over much of the Pacific Northwest. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Utah each had their warmest June on record, going back 121 years, while Nevada had its second warmest, Montana had its fifth warmest, and Wyoming, its fourth warmest. Temperatures were also above normal from the Mid-Atlantic down into the Southeast, where it was 2-4 degrees warmer than normal. The warmest temperatures were over the Carolinas. North Carolina had its fifth warmest June on record and South Carolina, the sixth.  

Precipitation

Very wet conditions were observed over much of the Midwest, with portions of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio recording 8-10 inches of precipitation above normal in June. Illinois, Indiana and Ohio all had their wettest Junes in 121 years of records. Dry conditions were observed over the Pacific Northwest, with Washington having its third driest June on record and Oregon having its ninth driest. Precipitation was 2-4 inches below normal over much of the region. Wetter-than-normal conditions were observed over the Southwest, northern Plains and New England.

Movers & Shakers for June 2015
State

Percent area
June 2, 2015
Percent area
June 30, 2015
Status Percentage point change

Biggest increases in drought
Alabama
0.00
14.35 moderate 14.35
Alaska 0.00
9.59 moderate 9.59
Florida 8.71
19.78 moderate 11.07
1.25 5.55 severe
4.30
Georgia 8.71 13.56 moderate 4.85
Hawaii 20.12 24.23 moderate 4.11
Idaho 65.15 82.11 moderate 16.96
26.19 44.66 severe 18.47
Montana 2.72 40.56 moderate 37.84
0.00 16.23 severe 16.23
North Carolina
0.00 15.86 moderate 15.86
Oregon 88.27 98.60 moderate
10.33
68.48 83.66 severe
15.18
Puerto Rico


29.15 39.55 moderate 10.40
2.97 14.68 severe 11.71
South Carolina
0.00 27.30 moderate 27.30
Tennessee 0.00 9.86 moderate 9.86
Washington
51.81 92.52 moderate 40.71
23.76
45.79 severe 22.03
Biggest improvements in drought

Arizona

80.21 76.15 moderate 4.06
29.26 24.56 severe 4.70
Colorado 16.73 0.00 moderate 16.73
Connecticut 44.32 22.68 moderate 21.64
Massachusetts 71.91 11.57 moderate 60.34
Minnesota 12.06 0.00 moderate 12.06
Nevada 99.93 95.13 moderate 4.80
86.99 76.10 severe 10.89
18.38 11.08 exceptional 7.03
New Hampshire
50.40 0.00 moderate 50.40
New Jersey
5.84 0.00 moderate 5.84
New Mexico
36.22 21.51 moderate 14.71
11.95 4.12 severe 7.83
New York
15.74 7.46 moderate 16.11
South Dakota
6.94 2.51 moderate 4.43
Utah 90.63 65.03 moderate 25.60
34.38 26.84 severe 7.54
9.32 0.00 extreme 9.32
Vermont 18.32 0.00 moderate 18.32

Regional Overviews

Northeast

Temperatures were below normal in New England and above normal in the Mid-Atlantic. The coolest temperatures were 4-5 degrees below normal in Maine, and the warmest, 3-4 degrees above normal in Virginia. Most of the region recorded above-normal precipitation for the month, by as much as 4-6 inches in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont. The region ended June with 3.92 percent of the area in drought compared to 12.89 percent at the beginning of the month. The remaining patches of drought were due to long-term indicators, as short-term conditions had recovered in most areas.

Southeast

Temperatures were well above normal in the Southeast in June, with most locations 2-3 degrees warmer than normal, and portions of the Carolinas 3-5 degrees above normal. Along with the warm temperatures, most locations were below normal for precipitation in June, with the driest areas over southeast Florida (6-8 inches below normal) and Alabama (2-4 inches below normal). Drought expanded and intensified, with 14.92 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 3.50 percent at the beginning of the month. Severe drought also expanded over portions of Georgia and Florida to affect 1.60 percent of the region.

Midwest

June temperatures were mixed over the Midwest, with the northern areas 2-3 degrees below normal and the southern areas 2-3 degrees above normal. Most of the region was wetter than normal in June, with areas from Missouri to Ohio 2-6 inches above normal. Flooding and delayed planting were issues throughout the grain belt. Drought was not an issue, as June ended with no portion of the Midwest in drought, compared to 2.37 percent at the beginning of the month.

High Plains

Temperatures in the High Plains were warmer than normal during June, with departures of 2-4 degrees above normal quite common throughout the region. Precipitation was mixed, with portions of Kansas and the Dakotas below normal, and areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota above normal. Drought conditions improved during the month, with only 1.38 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month, compared to 6.12 percent at the beginning of the month. The only remaining areas of drought were in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

South

Most of the South was 2-3 degrees warmer than normal in June, although south and west Texas were as much as 2-4 degrees cooler than normal. After a very wet May, most parts of the region saw normal precipitation in June. Parts of Oklahoma and north Texas were 4-6 inches above normal. After the recent wet pattern, drought is minimal, with just one lingering pocket over the Texas Panhandle. Drought was only affecting 0.92 percent of the South at the end of June, compared to 41.83 percent a year earlier.

West

June was warmer than normal over the West, by 4-8 degrees in most areas. Parts of the Southwest had above-normal precipitation, but it was drier than normal over Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana, which were all 2-5 inches below normal for the month. Drought expanded and intensified during June, with 60.38 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month, compared to 56.98 percent at the beginning. Severe drought increased from 35.92 to 39.01 percent, while extreme and exceptional drought stayed about the same.


June 2015 Impacts: Water shortages intensifying in California; fire risk elevated in Northwest; crops affected in Southeast

The chart above shows that the types of impacts most frequently recorded in the Drought Impact Reporter for June concerned water supply and/or government responses.
The largest number of impacts were recorded for California, followed by Washington and Oregon.
The chart at left from the California Department of Water Resources shows that as of mid-July, most reservoirs were well below capacity and historic averages.
The charts above compare the amount of water stored in California's reservoirs in 2015 with the past five years and with 1977, a record low. Visualizations are from Brad Rippey, a U.S. Drought Monitor author with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Chief Economist, based on data from the Calfornia Department of Natural Resources.
To end with some good news, Texas reservoir levels were rebounding rapidly as of mid-July. This chart from Water Data for Texas shows that storage has climbed from one of the lowest readings since 1990 to above the median, with reservoirs now more than 80 percent full.
By Denise Gutzmer, Drought Impact Specialist

Although California’s drought status did not change much during June, the cumulative effects of years of drought continued to squeeze water supplies for cities, agriculture and wildlife.  Drought intensified from western Montana to the Pacific Northwest, where precipitation amounted to 50 percent or less of average in most places (see graphic below), on top of the dry, warm winter. Drought developed in the Southeast, withering and damaging crops. More than 153 impacts were added to the Drought Impact Reporter in June, with most of those related to water supply and quality.

California

Tight water supplies curtailing senior water rights, hampering California agricultural production

Tension over the limited water supply in California continued to rise with water allocations shrinking and lawsuits arising. The State Water Resources Control Board sent out notices, ordering even senior rights holders in the Sacramento, San Joaquin and delta watersheds to stop diverting water on June 12. In some cases, irrigators complied, but others pushed back, saying that the SWRCB does not have the authority to order curtailments and that due process is lacking. At least three lawsuits stemmed from the curtailment notices. Lawyers for the SWRCB clarified the board’s position, stating that the curtailment notices were “advisory.” On July 10, a state judge found the California regulators had violated some farmers’ rights by ordering mandatory water curtailments without a prior hearing.

The shortage of water may cost the state’s agricultural industry $2.7 billion in 2015, according to a report from the University of California, Davis. More than 18,000 jobs may be lost and 564,000 acres left unplanted.

“California orders large water cuts for farmers,” by Fenit Nirappil and Scott Smith, Associated Press, Yahoo! News, June 12, 2015
“California Water Districts Challenge State's Drought Order,” by Associated Press, The New York Times, June 19, 2015
“Judge in drought-hit California blocks water cut orders for some farmers,” by Victoria Cavaliere, Reuters, July 11, 2015
“Drought May Cost California's Farmers Almost $3 Billion In 2015,” by Sam Sanders, National Public Radio (Washington, D.C.), June 3, 2015

More respiratory issues, other health concerns

Californians with respiratory illnesses were experiencing more problems on account of the drought, with particulates from more fallow fields, more forest fires and stagnant air, among other matters, polluting the air. Particle pollution rose in 25 counties in the state, including Sacramento, where the count of unhealthy particle days has almost tripled since 2014.

Health issues were worsening for residents of East Porterville, where the lack of running water and poor air quality increased the incidence of respiratory issues and other health concerns. Experts say the drought is triggering a chain of events that can link various health-related issues, such as pre-existing conditions, deteriorating air quality, access to potable water, hygiene, anxiety and others.  

Drought conditions make bad air worse, aggravate health problems,” by Sammy Caiola, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), June 28, 2015
“Drought disaster in East Porterville turns to budding health crisis,” by Andrea Castillo, The Fresno Bee (Calif.), June 20, 2015

Californians exceed 25 percent water conservation!

Californians’ best showing in water conservation occurred in May with a 29 percent reduction in water use, compared to the baseline year of 2013. The May conservation effort exceeded the governor’s April order to curb water use by 25 percent. May rains could have influenced the conservation rate, however, with fewer people watering lawns.

California cities show biggest water savings yet in drought,” by Fenit Nirappil, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com), July 1, 2015

California fire activity above normal

June fire activity remained high in California, with Cal Fire (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) responding to 3,381 fires through July 11, up from the five-year average of 2,256. The acreage consumed was below the average, suggesting that firefighters were quickly tackling blazes to keep them small.  Some of the larger fires included the nearly 18,000-acre Washington Fire, south of Lake Tahoe and the 31,000-acre Lake Fire in San Bernardino County. The lack of snow on the ground and excessively dry conditions in the San Bernardino National Forest allowed the fire to burn high into the mountains, above 10,000 feet for the first time in 64 years.

 “Alpine County fire grows to more than 16,000 acres; officials warn of drought conditions,” by Richard Chang and Bill Lindelof, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), June 23, 2015
LAKE FIRE: Lack of snowpack aided stunning climb,” by David Downey, The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.), June 28, 2015
Cal Fire

NUMBER OF FIRES AND ACRES:

Interval

Fires

Acres

January 1, 2015 through July 11, 2015

3,381

15,055

January 1, 2014 through July 11, 2014

2,491

35,513

5 year average (same interval)

2,256

26,472

(Statistics include all wildfires responded to by Cal Fire in both the State Responsibility Area, as well as the Local Responsibility Area under contract with the department, plus all large wildfires in the State Responsibility Area protected by Cal Fire’s contract counties).

Northwest

Rivers dwindling, leading to wildlife challenges in Washington, Oregon, California and Montana

Nearly three-quarters of the lower reaches of 54 rivers in Oregon, California and Washington surveyed by the Wild Fish Conservancy were warmer than 70 degrees, dangerously high for salmon and trout. Low snowpack from the warm, dry winter led to little runoff this spring and summer. Limited water releases from reservoirs, fishing restrictions and early releases of juveniles were some of the actions taken to protect fish. On the Sacramento River, releases were reduced to hold back more water in Shasta Reservoir in an attempt to prevent a massive fish die-off later in the year. In September 2014, there was not enough cold water to avoid the deaths of 95 percent of the winter-run salmon.

In Oregon, fish were dying in the Clackamas and Santiams rivers in the Willamette Valley, casualties of warm water temperatures. Meanwhile, in northwestern Oregon, fish were released early before water conditions deteriorated further, and in southwestern Oregon, fishing restrictions were intended to protect steelhead trout in the Umpqua River.

Low river levels forced the Washington Department of Ecology to direct hundreds of irrigators in eastern and western parts of the state to stop pumping to leave water for fish and senior rights holders. The river flows were at levels usually seen in August or September, rather than June. In Montana, hoot owl restrictions were in effect on the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers. The restrictions, which allow fishing only between midnight and 2 p.m., were needed because water temperatures rose above 72 degrees for three straight days, threatening fish survival. Fish mortalities occurred on the upper reaches of the Bitterroot River.

“Record heat, drought a fatal combination for fish across the West,” Jeff Barnard, Associated Press, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.), July 8, 2015
Sacramento River flow decreased to save cold water for fish,” by Heather Hacking, Daily Democrat (Woodland, Calif.), June 20,201
“Hatcheries releasing fish early because of drought,” by Henry Miller, Salem Statesman-Journal (Ore.), June 26, 2015
“Oregon Changes Umpqua River Fishing Due To Drought,” by Associated Press, Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland), June 23, 2015
“Ecology to cut off irrigators in Western and Eastern Washington,” by Don Jenkins, Capital Press - Agriculture Weekly (Salem, Ore.), June 29, 2015
“Hoot owl restrictions limit fishing time on Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Clark Fork,” by Rob Chaney,  Helena Independent Record (Mont.), July 1, 2015

Washington

Heat, wildfire and low stream flows

Washington and Oregon endured their hottest June on record. Conditions continued to worsen, with the fire danger rising and stream flows falling. Extreme wildfire activity led Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington to make an emergency proclamation for all of the state, permitting the use of critical resources to prevent and contain expected wildfires.

 “Northwest Water Supplies Dropping Amid Drought Conditions,” KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio (Seattle), July 10, 2015
“Burn ban expanded: Campfires prohibited in all state parks,” KIRO-TV CBS 7, (Seattle), June 26, 2015

It's so dry even the rain forest is burning

The Paradise Fire, burning nearly 1,600 acres in Olympic National Park, was believed to have been sparked by lightning around May 15 and has continued to smolder in one of the wettest parts of the U.S., where the park’s western slopes usually receive 150 inches of rain annually. The rain forest, normally damp with green vegetation and lichens, was instead dry kindling, allowing the fire to slowly burn ancient Sitka spruce trees, which are some of the largest and oldest trees worldwide.

The blaze was consuming a centuries-old ecosystem, which may be forever changed as a result. Because the forest is so dense, firefighters cannot employ typical firefighting techniques and cannot cut a fire line.

The Olympic Peninsula experienced its driest spring in more than a century after emerging from winter with a snow pack at 14 percent of normal, according to the Park Service. Full containment of the fire may not be achieved until Sept. 30, said the National Wildfire Coordinating Group website.

"The West is so dry even a rain forest is on fire," by Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post, July 13, 2015

Oregon

Fire risk ahead of schedule

Governor Kate Brown declared 20 of Oregon’s 36 counties to be in drought emergencies after a warm, dry winter and spring left snowpack low and unable to replenish rivers and reservoirs.

The Oregon Department of Forestry was facing conditions similar to that typically seen in late July or early August. The unusually dry landscape, drought status, hot weather and forecasted lightning were driving up the chances of extreme fire activity and contributing to the above normal fire activity already seen.

“Drought emergency declared in 20th Oregon county,” by Tracy Loew, Statesman Journal (Salem, Ore.), June 24, 2015
Fire-prone conditions arrive early, state Forestry Department says,” by Janet Eastman, Portland Oregonian, Hillsboro Argus, Oregon Live.com (Ore.), June 28, 2015
“Firefighters prepare for dangerous fire season,” by Natalie Pate, Salem Statesman-Journal (Ore.), July 6, 2015

Nevada

Reno/Sparks water users asked to conserve

Truckee Meadows Water Authority, the water provider for Reno/Sparks, began using its drought reserves on June 23 and asked customers and even private well owners to curb water use by at least 10 percent. The district began releasing water from drought-storage reservoirs and tapping production wells.

TMWA now using drought reserves, consumer conservation critical,” KRNV News 4 (Reno, Nev.), June 23, 2015

Lake Mead at 37 percent of capacity

Lake Mead dropped to a historic low of 1,074.98 feet on June 23, just below a water supply shortage trigger of 1,075 feet, as a 15-year drought persisted in the region. If the lake is anticipated to be this low at the start of 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would announce the 2016 shortage in August, but the lake level is expected to rise, thanks to an unusually wet spring.

Lake Mead sinks to record low, risking 2016 water shortage,” by Caitlin McGlade, The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.), June 24, 2015

The Carolinas

Crops affected in South Carolina

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee recognized 28 counties as being in incipient drought. Rainfall has been sparse statewide, and corn and soybeans were suffering most from the dry weather.

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

Water supplies monitored in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the Catawba-Wateree River Basin entered Stage 0 of the Low Inflow Protocol, due to dry weather and warm temperatures. Stage 0 does not require water conservation by the public, but simply alerts the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group to closely monitor water supplies.

“Warm Conditions and Low Streamflow Puts Catawba-Wateree Basin in Drought Watch,” City of Hickory, North Carolina, July 2, 2015

Shark bites related to drought?

Ten people have suffered shark bites off the coast of the Carolinas, an area that typically sees just six bites per year, on average. The director of the Florida Program for Shark Research theorized that since drought reduces the amount of freshwater flowing into the sea, the water along the coast is saltier than normal, drawing more fish and sharks near the shore.

“What's behind increase in shark attacks off the Carolinas?” by Dana Ford, CNN (Atlanta, Ga.), July 3, 2015

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