Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

March 2016 Drought and Impact Summary

Drought and Climate for March 2016: Southern Plains, Midwest showing signs of winter dryness

Access the latest monthly drought outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The two maps above are from the High Plains Regional Climate Center.
Find these and other products related to the U.S. Drought Monitor on the USDM website.

By Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist


As winter ended, some areas of the southern Plains and Midwest started showing signs of the impact of late winter dryness.  Several storms impacted the West Coast and brought with them much-needed precipitation, but the grip of 4+ years of drought continued to affect most of California and Nevada.  At the end of March, 15.09 percent of the contiguous United States was in drought, compared to 14.30 percent at the beginning of March.  Severe drought improved from 7.77 to 5.85 percent, extreme drought improved from 4.05 to 3.76 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 2.19 to 1.87 percent.  Most of this improvement was in Oregon, northern California, Idaho and Montana while drought was introduced into Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado and expanded in North Dakota.

Drought Outlook

For April, the Climate Prediction Center’s Monthly Drought Outlook has the area east of the Missouri River staying drought free.  The drought that has developed in the southern Plains and northern Plains will likely persist during the month.  Out west, drought will persist over much of California and Nevada while continuing to develop over Arizona and New Mexico.  Continual improvements may be observed over northern California, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.  Drought will continue over Hawaii and Puerto Rico.


March was a warm month over the contiguous United States with almost all areas recording above-normal temperatures.  The greatest departures from normal were over the Plains and Mid-Atlantic states, where departures from normal were 8-10 degrees during the month.  Most of the rest of the country was 4-6 degrees above normal in March.


March saw much of the Pacific Northwest and northern California record above-normal precipitation, with portions of northern California and the coastal regions of Washington and Oregon being 4-8 inches above normal for the month.  The above-normal precipitation also included much of the northern Rocky Mountains, where most areas were up to 4 inches above normal for March.  The lower Mississippi Valley also experienced above-normal precipitation with much of the area 4-8 inches above normal and some areas of northern Louisiana up to 12 inches above normal for the month.  Much of the upper Midwest was also above normal in March while the eastern coastal regions, the Four Corners region, and much of the central and northern Plains were below normal for March.


Regional Overviews


Temperatures during March were 6-8 degrees above normal for the region, with portions of northern Maine normal to 2 degrees below normal.  Maine also was one of the few areas in the region that had above-normal precipitation for the month with up to 2 inches above normal.  Most of the region was 1-2 inches below normal, with the greatest departures over southeast New York where departures were 3 inches below normal.  Regardless of the warm and drier than normal conditions, drought is not currently an issue in the region, with only a few areas of abnormally dry conditions being reported.


Warmer than normal temperatures dominated the region in March.  Most of the region was 2-4 degrees above normal, with areas of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic reporting temperatures 6-8 degrees above normal. The month was dry in the southeast, with most areas 3-6 inches below normal precipitation.  Closer to the Mississippi River, conditions were wetter with most areas in and along the Mississippi River having 3-6 inches of rain above normal amounts.  There are currently no drought issues in the region, but abnormally dry conditions did expand over Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

Movers & Shakers for March 2016

Percent area Mar. 1, 2016

Percent area Mar. 29, 2016 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Arizona 16.66 53.97 Moderate 37.31
Colorado 0
Moderate 4.39
Hawaii 54.40
Moderate 24.08
Severe 10.62
New Mexico
North Dakota 3.95
10.59 Moderate 6.64
Biggest improvements in drought
95.13 90.58 Moderate 4.55
 Severe 9.84
Extreme 5.61
38.48 34.74 Exceptional 3.74


52.72 3.16 Moderate 49.56
3.90 0 Severe 3.90
Montana 24.95 12.37 Moderate
8.69 3.46 Severe 5.23
62.63 59.30 Moderate 3.33
4.56 1.12 Exceptional 3.44
 Oregon 62.92 45.68 Moderate 17.24
33.96 1.00 Severe 32.96
Washington 7.63 0 Moderate 7.63


March was a very warm month for the Midwest.  Temperatures were 4-8 degrees above normal over the entire region, with the area of northern Minnesota recording temperatures 8-10 degrees above normal.  Much of the Upper Midwest received above-normal precipitation, with up to 3 inches above normal in Michigan, Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota.  Much of Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri were dry, with precipitation departures of 2-4 inches below normal common.  Drought is not a current issue in the region, with only abnormally dry conditions expanding into Missouri.

High Plains

The High Plains region also recorded temperatures well above normal in March.  Most of the region was 4-6 degrees above normal for the month, with areas of the Dakotas being 8-10 degrees above normal.  Drier than normal conditions dominated the High Plains, with only areas of the Nebraska panhandle, northern Colorado, and Wyoming recording above-normal precipitation (up to 2 inches above normal).  Most of the rest of the region was 1-2 inches below normal for March.  Drought expanded in the region during March with 8.61 percent of the region now in drought compared to 3.18 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought did not change as it continues to cover 0.41 percent of the region, isolated in northern Wyoming.


Temperatures were warmer than normal in the South with departures of 2-4 degrees above normal common throughout the region.  Precipitation was above normal from central Texas to Mississippi, with the greatest amounts recorded along the Mississippi River.  Departures were 4-8 inches above normal with portions of northern Louisiana and southeast Arkansas reporting up to 12 inches above-normal precipitation.  The rest of Texas and most of Oklahoma were drier than normal in March, with departures of up to 4 inches below normal.  With the dryness, drought expanded into the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma.  Drought now covers 4.14 percent of the region compared to 0.55 percent at the beginning of March.


Temperatures were warmer than normal over the West, with the greatest departures over Montana.  Departures were generally 2-4 degrees above normal, with 6-8 degrees above normal in Montana.  Much of the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and Idaho had above-normal precipitation.  Departures were 6-9 inches above normal in California to 3-4 inches above normal in the Pacific Northwest.  For the current Water Year, which started October 1, most of the West is above normal for precipitation, but areas of Arizona and southern California are 4-8 inches below normal.  Some areas of coastal Washington and Oregon are up to 20 inches above normal for the current Water Year.  Drought improved in the West in March with 34.24 percent of the region now in drought compared to 35.79 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought improved from 19.70 to 14.82 percent, extreme drought improved from 10.28 to 9.53 percent, and exceptional drought improved from 5.55 to 4.74 percent.  Drought did expand in portions of Arizona and New Mexico in March, which offset improvements to other portions of the region.





March 2016 impact summary: Southern California continues to deal with water supply issues

The two charts above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.
The two charts above summarize information from the California Department of Water Resources Water Conditions page.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

In parts of the western U.S., drought has stretched into its fifth year, and it was hoped that the strong El Niño would lead to abundant precipitation for California to deepen snowpack and refill reservoirs.  El Niño events typically mean wetter winter weather for the southern U.S., including Southern California.  The winter, however, did not bring the expected deluges to Southern California, but instead offered the moisture to Northern California, easing drought there while leaving the southern part parched.   California’s 26 impacts accrued during March reflect the changing water allocations and restrictions as the drought status changes, as well as a wide range of effects on the public.  Texas, with 6 impacts, has seen abnormal dryness developing in the Panhandle and the Far West, with some of that including moderate drought.  Surprisingly, North and South Carolina had more impacts during March than some drought-affected states because observers for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) have documented the drying trend they’ve seen in their neighborhoods.  Overall, 47 impacts were added to the Drought Impact Reporter in March.

California's Sierra Nevada snowpack below normal

The March 30 manual snow survey near Echo Summit found that snow water content was slightly below normal at 97 percent of average.  April 1 is the time of year when snow is typically at its deepest, making this a crucial predictor of snow water runoff for the summer.  Electronic readings of Sierra Nevada snow conditions found 28.1 inches of water content in the northern region for 97 percent of average, 25.2 inches in the central region for 88 percent of average, and 19.3 inches in the southern region for 72 percent of average.

“Sierra Nevada Snowpack Grew During First Half of March, But Dry Spell Leaves Water Content Still below Average,” by California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, March 30, 2016

“Average snowpack could prolong California water conservation,” by Scott Smith, Associated Press, Redding Record Searchlight (Calif.), March 30, 2016 

“Critical Sierra survey finds healthy snowpack – but no ‘drought buster,’” by Phillip Reese and Dale Kasler, The Fresno Bee, March 30, 2016

Statewide water restrictions eased

Governor Jerry Brown mandated 25 percent water conservation between June 2015 and February 2016, compared to the same months in 2013, and Californians just missed the target at 23.9 percent.  Altogether, the public saved enough water during that time to serve nearly 6 million Californians for a full year, which is still a considerable feat.  The mandate for a 25 percent reduction in water use has been eased to 20 percent.

Despite the ongoing water restrictions, the San Juan Water District (SJWD), serving Granite Bay and others near Folsom Lake, decided that the drought had ended and that they no longer expect their customers to observe the state’s target of 33 percent for the district.  The SJWD has chosen to ask their customers to curb water use by 10 percent.  The State Water Resources Control Board will meet in May to review water conservation mandates.

At the end of March, the State Water Resources Control Board reduced conservation standards by 2 to 8 percentage points for some water districts that requested a reduction.  The Mesa Water District, which serves 108,000 customers in Costa Mesa and portions of Newport Beach, has had its conservation goal cut from 20 percent to 13 percent.

“Recent storms put California drought emergency in question,” by Scott Smith, Associated Press, Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.), March 15, 2016

California eases water cutbacks as drought loosens,” by Associated Press, Yahoo! News, March 17, 2016 

“Granite Bay water district says it will no longer follow state water conservation mandate,” by Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee (Calif.), March 25, 2016 

“Local water districts get a break on conservation requirements,” by Luke Money and Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2016

Water allocations from state, federal projects announced

Additional winter precipitation in California made it possible for the State Water Resources Control Board to offer larger water allotments of 45 percent this year, an improvement over February’s estimate of 30 percent of full allotments. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its initial allocations for the Central Valley Project on April 1.  Water customers north of the delta will receive 100 percent of contract supply, while agricultural water customers south of the delta will be allocated 5 percent; municipal and industrial users will get 55 percent; and San Joaquin River Exchange and Settlement Contractors will get 100 percent.  Eastside water service contractors, such as the Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District and Stockton East Water District, will receive 0 percent of their contract supply. 

California eases water cutbacks as drought loosens,” by Associated Press, Yahoo! News, March 17, 2016

Central Valley Project to provide zero to 100 percent of contracted water,” Central Valley Business Times (Stockton, Calif.), April 1, 2016

Lakes Shasta, Oroville exceed historical averages

Heavy precipitation brought Lake Oroville to the historical average of 2,569,644 acre-feet on March 14.  The lake level rose about one foot every 2½ hours on March 14, with about 5,000 acre-feet of water flowing into the lake each hour.

Shasta Lake rose to its historical average on March 13 with inflows topping 100,000 cubic feet per second at times.  On March 14, lake storage was 3.65 million acre-feet, or about 80 percent of capacity.  By the end of March, lakes Oroville, Shasta and Folsom had exceeded their historical averages and were releasing water.

Lake Oroville passes benchmark, now fuller than average,” by Steve Schoonover, Chico Enterprise-Record (Calif.), March 14, 2016

Better drought preparation needed at national level

President Obama issued a presidential memorandum and separate action plan on March 21, directing the federal government to devise a more proactive, long-term approach to dealing with drought. Some of the goals the president set forth are to increase sharing of information about drought risks with state, regional, tribal and local authorities and to improve coordination of federal drought-related activities.  More bouts of intense drought are expected with climate change, creating a greater need for national drought preparedness.

“Obama seeks more coordination on dealing with drought,” by Darlene Superville, Associated Press, March 21, 2016

Dry conditions noted in Carolinas

As unusual dryness developed in the Carolinas and Georgia, CoCoRaHS observers noted dry, cracked soil in Wake County, North Carolina; stressed water supply in Morrisville, North Carolina; a stream flowing at a trickle near Holly Springs, North Carolina; and dry grasses and dying plants in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

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