Saturday, August 30, 2014

National Drought Mitigation Center

March 2014 Drought and Impact Summary

Northwest sees excess precipitation but drought entrenched from Texas to California

 
The Climate Prediction Center's U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook has good news for the nation's midsection and the Northwest, but prospects look worse for an area from West Texas through Oregon.

The one-month change map shows improvement especially along the Texas Gulf Coast and in the Northwest, but deterioration in most of the rest of Texas and many other areas.

Changes in U.S. Drought Monitor status since Oct. 1, the start of the water year, show improvement mostly in northern states, and degradation from Kansas, south into Texas and west, through California and up the coast.

The March 25 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 38.27 percent of the contiguous United States in drought, compared to 36.08 percent at the end of February.
Movers & Shakers for March 2014
State Percent area on
Feb. 25, 2014
Percent  area on March 25, 2014
Status
Biggest increases in drought
Alabama
0.00
3.37 moderate
Arizona 77.24 88.03 moderate
California 94.56 99.80 moderate
90.82
95.21 severe
 Iowa 47.04 56.68 moderate
Kansas

65.16 91.26 moderate
7.78
14.30 extreme
Mississippi
0.00 15.14 moderate
Missouri 8.13 19.28 moderate
Nebraska 51.95 64.96 moderate
26.50 30.67 severe
Nevada 72.95 82.34 severe
5.37 8.24 exceptional
 New Mexico
14.83 24.56 extreme
Oklahoma 62.41 77.41 moderate
28.86 32.48 severe
13.07 24.03 extreme
2.40
8.58 exceptional
Texas
33.55 41.85 severe
9.45 24.97 extreme
0.93 3.48 exceptional
Utah 55.29 64.54 moderate
11.19 16.32 severe
 Biggest improvements in drought
 Hawaii

17.88 14.35 moderate
2.91 0.51 severe
Idaho 53.09 40.62 moderate
32.92 27.95 severe
Illinois 9.31 2.57 moderate
Louisiana 5.68 0.00 moderate
Oregon 52.62 49.08 severe
 Washington 54.32 35.41 moderate
13.38 17.22
severe

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

Outlook

The drought which has been establishing over the last three years in the West will be in place through the summer, as there is little change expected over the next several months, and currently drought-free areas of the Southwest and West Texas will likely see drought develop. Drought could improve from eastern Nebraska south through eastern Texas, and could be removed from the Midwest.

Drought

Drought in the U.S. got worse in March. The month ended with 38.27 percent of the contiguous United States in drought, compared to 36.08 percent at the end of February. Not only did drought expand, but it also intensified. Severe drought increased from 21.54 to 23.09 percent, extreme from 7.65 to 9.70 percent, and exceptional from 1.76 to 2.09 percent. This is the most exceptional drought depicted since last August. Although drought got worse in March 2014, its footprint is much smaller than this time last year. In 2013, 51.64 percent of the country was in drought at the end of March.

Precipitation

March was a dry month over most of the United States, with most of the Plains and Midwest recording 25 percent of normal precipitation or less. In contrast, areas along the Cascade Mountains in the Northwest recorded 130-150 percent of normal precipitation. It extended into Northern California, which got 125 percent of normal precipitation, and slightly eased the drought there. Overall, California precipitation for the current 2013-14 water year is running at or below the state’s previous driest water year,  1976-77.

Temperature

This year’s pattern continued in March, with cooler-than-normal temperatures over the eastern two-thirds of the United States, and warmer-than-normal temperatures west of the Great Divide, into the Great Basin and the West Coast. Areas in the west were 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with the warmest temperatures recorded in California and Arizona, which were 6-8 degrees above normal. Many locations in California are experiencing one of the warmest winters on record. For most of the country, winter weather lasted throughout the month of March, similar to 2013, with temperatures of 12-15 degrees below normal for the Upper Midwest,  the Great Lakes region, and New England.

Regional Roundup

Northeast

Temperatures in March in the Northeast were again colder than normal. Departures were 12-16 degrees below normal in upper New England and 4-8 degrees below normal through the rest of the region. It was a mainly dry month, as outside of northern Maine, most locations received well-below-normal precipitation for the month. The driest conditions were from central Pennsylvania east towards the coast. Even with the dry weather, the cool temperatures were putting spring on hold, and there was no drought reported in the region during March.

Southeast

As was common for much of the country, below-normal temperatures dominated the Southeast in March. Temperatures were 6-8 degrees below normal over the northern extent of the region and 2-4 degrees below normal over the southern extent. South Florida was a little warmer than usual in March. Outside of a few areas in the Carolinas and into northern Florida, most of the region was below normal for precipitation. Areas of northern Kentucky, northern Mississippi, and northern Alabama were the driest, with less than 25 percent of normal precipitation recorded during the month. The drought status changed slightly, with an introduction of moderate drought into northern Mississippi in March, but the region was mostly drought-free.

Midwest

March was dry and cold for much of the Midwest. Temperatures were 8-12 degrees below normal in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, while the rest of the area was 4-8 degrees below normal for the month. Most of the region was very dry, with less than 50 percent of normal precipitation common. The proportion of the region in drought increased during March from 11.63 to 13.52 percent.

High Plains

Like the eastern half of the country, the High Plains region was mostly cold in March, with departures of 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit common, although the western portions of the region had normal to slightly above-normal temperatures in March. Precipitation was minimal over most of the plains states, at less than 25 percent of normal.  The mountains of Colorado and Wyoming received better precipitation, with most basins in those areas well above normal for snowpack and snow water equivalency for the current water year. Drought increased over the region from 23.03 to 29.23 percent in March, and intensified, as severe drought increased from 13.80 to 14.68 percent and extreme drought increased from 2.79 to 4.13 percent.

South

Drought’s grip on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s South region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, got worse in March. Moderate drought increased from 43.10 to 45.86 percent of the region; severe drought increased from 20.79 to 25.46 percent; extreme drought from 6.51 to 15.81 percent; and exceptional drought went from 0.79 to 2.09 percent. Although areas of south Texas, west Texas, eastern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas had above-normal precipitation in March, very dry conditions, especially through central and west Texas, brought more concerns and issues with drought. The South had a cool March, with temperatures of 4-6 degrees below normal.

West

Drought expanded and intensified in March, with 60.33 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 59.61 percent at the end of February. Most of the precipitation this month was confined to the northern tier of states. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana recorded 150+ percent of normal precipitation in March. Spots in Arizona and New Mexico also saw above-normal precipitation. But most areas got less than 70 percent of normal, with the driest areas in southern California, western Nevada, northern Arizona and eastern New Mexico.  As it has been for most of the winter and now into spring, temperatures in the West have been well above normal. March was no different, with most of the West 2-4 degrees above normal and portions of California, Arizona, and Idaho 4-6 degrees above normal.


California, Texas, dealing with long-term hydro issues, short-term ag and environment issues


 

The Drought Impact Reporter showed 66 impacts for the month of March, with the greatest concentration in California and the next greatest in Texas.

This graphic from the California Department of Water Resources shows that as of March 31, all of the state's major reservoirs were well below normal.

Texas' monitored reservoirs were 64.3 percent full on March 27. Note that 2014 is the lowest year since 1990, the earliest shown on the graph. From Water Data for Texas.


Blowing dust near Amarillo, Texas, on March 26, was apparently made worse by a brief rain. Photo by Nicholas Fenner, NOAA.

by Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Drought worsened in the West and the southern Great Plains in March, dashing hopes for a “Miracle March” in California. The snowpack water content in the Sierra Nevada was only 32 percent of the April 1 average, boosting the situation from "catastrophic" to "very bad," in the words of one observer. The State Water Project and the Central Valley Project had not changed their anticipated zero allocations of requested water. With the poor snowpack, low reservoirs and grim outlook for the year, the California Farm Water Coalition said that farmers may fallow as many as 800,000 acres of land, due to the water shortage, for a loss of $7.5 billion.
"Despite Recent Storms, Sierra Snowpack Remains Well Below-Normal," by Phillip Reese, Sacramento Bee (Calif.), April 1, 2014. 
“Drought Has Salmon Hitching Rides in Trucks,” by Michael B. Marois, Bloomberg.com (New York, N.Y.), March 25, 2014.

Water suppliers coping with salinity

The California Department of Water Resources was hurrying to install temporary dams at a cost of $25 million in three channels of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to guard water quality by reducing seawater intrusion from the San Francisco Bay. Having the barriers in place would eliminate or reduce the need for water releases from reservoirs to improve water quality in the Delta.

The Contra Costa Water District began pumping drinking water from Middle River instead of Rock Slough, near Knightsen, due to elevated salinity in the slough. The salinity of Rock Slough exceeded 180 parts per million chlorides, which was nearing 200 parts, the level at which it can be tasted. The level of chlorides in the Middle River was roughly 100 ppm, the CCWD said on March 12.
“Dams could be constructed to block saltwater creep into Delta's fresh water,” by Denis Cuff and Paul Burgarino, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), March 12, 2014.

Congress takes a fresh look at increasing reservoir storage in California

The drought in California has federal lawmakers looking to create or expand several reservoirs to bolster the water supply. Government agencies have been considering five major water storage projects for nearly 20 years, and the current drought has renewed interest in creating more water storage.
“Congress focuses on dams amid California's drought,” by Associated Press, Redding Record Searchlight (Calif.), March 23, 2014.

Salmon get a lift to sea

Thirty million young Chinook salmon were being trucked from a federal fish hatchery in Anderson to San Pablo Bay, 180 miles away, to be released. Drought left the water in the Sacramento River and its tributaries too warm and shallow for the fish to make the trip on their own. Four to seven trucks will transport the fish to the ocean on 22 days during the next two and a half months until 12 million juvenile fish from the federal hatchery and 18 million from four state hatcheries are in the ocean. The state usually hauls some of its fish to the ocean, but this year the tab will be about three times higher than usual. Expenses are expected to reach about $150,000 for truck rental and fuel.
“California Drought Has Salmon Hitching Rides in Trucks,” by Michael B. Marois, Bloomberg.com (New York, N.Y.), March 25, 2014.

Firefighting season off to busy start in California

Since the start of the year, 750 California wildfires have charred more than 4,000 acres, compared to just over 200 wildfires during the same time span in 2013. The fire season usually starts in June, but dry conditions have Cal Fire and the U.S. Department of Forestry monitoring brush moisture levels, hiring seasonal firefighters and embarking on a public awareness campaign months ahead of schedule. A sizable portion of the Southern Sierras and the Central Coast Range had received less than 25 percent of average precipitation through March 14, leaving little snow cover at 4,500 feet and higher elevations. These conditions prompted the Forest Service to forecast an active fire season for upcountry areas to begin by May, three to five weeks earlier than usual.
“California drought: Firefighters, residents bracing for long fire season,” by Karina Ioffee, Contra Costa Times (Calif.), March 14, 2014.

USDA cuts organic food growers slack on requirements

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given California milk and meat producers who sell organic products a variance for February and March, allowing them to keep their organic status despite not being able to graze cattle on grass for the required minimum of four months of the year.
“How California's drought is changing organic milk and honey,” by Hoda Emam, San Jose Mercury News (Calif.), March 20.

NASA monitoring snowpack to better predict water supplies

NASA began monitoring the snow depth and water content in California and Colorado to improve prediction of water supplies. The Airborne Snow Observatory will allow scientists to calculate snow depth to within 4 inches and water content to within 5 percent. Lasers determine the snow depth, and sunlight reflection and absorption are calculated to estimate how quickly the snow will melt and become runoff.
“NASA measures snowpack in California, Colorado,” by Associated Press, Washington Post (D.C.), March 26, 2014.

West Texas water reservoirs low

Texas water supplies were at historic lows as drought continued to lower reservoir levels in western Texas. The reservoirs that supply Wichita Falls, northwest of Fort Worth, were at about 26 percent of capacity, spurring the parched city to try something new. Wichita Falls is waiting for approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to go ahead with a project to recycle and recapture effluent. Waste water will go through a new four-step recycling process, blending effluent and reservoir water in equal parts, using a higher percentage of effluent than has been used in the past. The TCEQ has 30 days to deliver its ruling.
“Dry Wichita Falls to try drinking ‘potty water,’” by Steve Campbell, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, March 20, 2014.

Wheat stressed in Texas drought areas

Eighty-seven percent of the dryland wheat crop in the High Plains and Rolling Plains of Texas was rated in fair to very poor condition as dry weather took a toll on the crop, according to Travis Miller, an AgriLife Extension agronomist and Texas A&M University soil and crop sciences associate department head.
“Wheat crop below average; cotton planting delayed,” by Robert Burns, Abilene Reporter-News (Texas), March 23, 2014.

Rio Grande irrigation season to be brief

Water releases into and from the Rio Grande River for the irrigation season in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, were delayed from a typical March start to June 1, due to ongoing drought. All parties in New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Mexico agreed to a June 1 start date. Drought in 2013 also led to delayed water releases beginning on June 1.
“Rio Grande water releases to wait until June,” by Diana Washington Valdez, El Paso Times (Texas), March 13, 2014.

Lower Colorado hydropower production down

The Lower Colorado River Authority was generating less hydropower from its six dams as drought reduced the amount of water flowing in the Colorado River. In early 2014, the LCRA was producing hydropower at roughly one-third of the rate it generated power in 2011. The executive manager of water operations at the LCRA said that water levels could drop too low to turn the generators within several years. Hydropower paid for damming the Colorado River in the 1930s, but has become less important in recent decades as power needs have outstripped what the generators can provide. Water managers do not often use the generators to their full potential and only use the generators when water is being released downstream for other purposes.
“Drought limits power coming from Central Texas dams,” Abilene Reporter-News (Texas), March 10, 2014

Tumbleweeds engulf towns in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas

Ongoing drought brought about a proliferation of tumbleweeds in southeastern Colorado, parts of New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. Rainfall in September 2013 spurred the growth of the Russian thistles, which grew well with little moisture in places where much of the native vegetation was sparse or had died from the drought, and where the drought-related sale of cattle left fewer ruminants to nibble on the Russian thistle shoots. The tumbleweeds are abundant in many areas, blocking roads and drainage culverts and piling up against fences and homes. In Fountain, Colorado, just southeast of Colorado Springs, a windstorm blew an incredible number of tumbleweeds into town, building mounds more than 10 feet high that residents had to rake and bag. An older couple in Clovis, New Mexico, was trapped in their home in January when it became engulfed in tumbleweeds. "I looked out the window to see why it got so dark all of a sudden, and they were over 12 feet high, blocking my front and back doors," the man said. "We couldn't get out." A neighbor managed to dig through and get into the garage to free the couple. Tumbleweeds have been an ongoing problem in Crowley County, New Mexico, where they continue to make travel on some roads very difficult.
“Tumbleweeds plague drought-stricken American West,” by Keith Coffman, Reuters, March 27, 2014.

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