Tuesday, April 24, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Climate for March 2017: Midwest, South, Southeast see improvement

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


Drought improved during March as several wet storm systems tracked over the Midwest, South, and Southeast.  While drought improved over these areas, portions of the Mid Atlantic were dry and saw drought introduced in March.  March ended with 9.83 percent of the contiguous United States in drought compared to 14.94 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought improved from 4.00 to 1.50 percent, extreme drought improved from 0.53 to 0.10 percent, and there is no exceptional drought currently.  Drought developed on the Big Island of Hawaii, but there was no drought in Alaska or Puerto Rico.

Drought Outlook

The April drought outlook had improving conditions in the East, Southeast, Midwest, and High Plains, with drought removal over much of these areas.  Drought will persist over much of south Florida and develop along the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina.  There is the potential of drought development over portions of southwest Texas.


Temperatures were above normal over much of the western two-thirds of the United States, with areas from Wyoming to Texas recording temperatures 6-8 degrees above normal.  Cooler than normal temperatures were found over much of New England, where departures were 4-6 degrees below normal.


Dry conditions persisted over much of southern Georgia and the Florida panhandle as most areas were up to 6 inches below normal for March.  Conditions remained wetter than normal over the Pacific Northwest, where departures were 3-6 inches above normal.  Areas of the central Plains and Midwest were slightly above normal, with departures of up to 3 inches above normal, and much of the High Plains and Southwest were near normal.


Regional Overviews


Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the region for March, with most areas 4-6 degrees cooler than normal and the coolest temperatures recorded in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  Conditions were dry throughout much of the region, with the driest conditions along the coastal regions where departures of 1-2 inches below normal were common.  Conditions were also drier than normal over the Mid Atlantic, where departures of 1-2 inches were common over Virginia and Maryland.  Even with the dryness, drought conditions improved during the month, with only 10.50 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 27.08 percent at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought improved from 6.96 percent of the region to 1.05 percent, with most remaining drought associated with long-term issues.


Most of the region was normal to slightly above normal for temperatures in March.  Areas of coastal North Carolina were cooler than normal, with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal.  Conditions were dry over southern Georgia, southeast Alabama, and Florida.  Departures in this area were 3-4 inches below normal.  Portions of northern Georgia, western North Carolina, and northern Alabama were wetter than normal, with departures 1-2 inches above normal.  Drought expanded over the region, with 35.61 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 30.13 at the beginning of the month.  Severe drought improved from 13.80 to 9.05 percent and extreme drought improved from 3.98 to 1.08 percent.

Movers & Shakers for March 2017

Percent area Feb. 28, 2017

Percent area Apr. 4, 2017 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Florida 25.47 42.41 Moderate 16.94
Hawaii  7.37 25.69
Moderate 18.32
 0  17.55 Severe 17.55
5.39  15.96 Moderate
North Carolina
26.52 36.05 Moderate
South Carolina
17.12 40.63 Moderate
Biggest improvements in drought


26.17 Moderate 27.46
26.86 4.87 Severe 21.99
 0 Extreme 5.21
41.37 18.90 Moderate 22.47
18.35 2.07 Severe 16.28
37.11 21.88 Moderate
Connecticut 100.00 74.81 Moderate 25.19
Delaware 100.00
0.00 Moderate 100.00
19.39 15.05 Severe 4.34
 8.69 4.16
Illinois 17.07
Kansas 39.34
10.41 Moderate 28.93
0.53 Severe
Maryland 70.10
15.28 Moderate 54.82
0 Severe 8.21
97.18 16.65 Moderate
Mississippi 23.25
Severe 7.14
 3.77 Moderate
New Hampshire
Moderate 11.40
Severe 41.29
New Jersey
Moderate 52.01
 0 Severe  6.15
New York
Moderate  8.88
North Carolina
Oklahoma 74.33
Moderate 19.66
Severe 28.02
Extreme 3.17
Pennsylvania 27.25
Moderate 15.69
Rhode Island
 0 Moderate
Severe 8.60
Vermont 14.32 10.34 Moderate 3.98


During March, almost the entire region was near normal, with just the northernmost areas being cooler than normal and the lower Midwest being slightly warmer than normal.  Conditions were wet over the Midwest, with most areas recording above-normal precipitation for March and departures of up to 3 inches above normal.  The Upper Midwest was dry, with Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan being about an inch below normal.  With the widely scattered precipitation, drought conditions improved this month; only 2.46 percent of the region was left in drought compared to 13.22 percent at the beginning of March.  Severe drought was also eliminated.

High Plains

Warmer than normal temperatures dominated the region, with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal widespread.  Most of North Dakota and eastern South Dakota were cooler than normal, with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal.  Precipitation was mixed as most areas were near normal or slightly below.  In areas of eastern Kansas, departures of up to 3 inches above normal were observed.  Drought conditions improved during the month, and the amount of the region in moderate drought decreased from 19.70 to 11.04 percent.  Severe drought improved from 1.86 to 0.70 percent and extreme drought was eliminated from southwest Kansas.


A warmer than normal month dominated the region.  Temperatures were 6-8 degrees above normal over most of Texas and Oklahoma and 4-6 degrees above normal in Arkansas and Louisiana. Precipitation was greatest over northern Arkansas and into Tennessee and along the Gulf Coast of Texas, where up to 4 inches of precipitation above normal was observed.  Conditions were dry over northeast Texas and into southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana, where departures were up to 4 inches below normal.  Drought conditions did improve during the month, with moderate drought decreasing from 20.61 to 13.44 percent of the region.  Severe drought improved from 9.37 to 2.18 percent and extreme drought was eliminated.


Most of the West was warmer than normal in March, with departures of 6-8 degrees above normal.  Cooler than normal temperatures were observed over the Pacific Northwest, with departures of 2-3 degrees below normal.  Much of the Pacific Northwest was wetter than normal too, with up to 9 inches of precipitation above normal in northwest Washington.  Drought conditions improved slightly, with moderate drought improving from 6.83 to 5.49 percent of the region.  Severe drought increased slightly from 0.34 to 0.43 percent, mostly over Colorado.  Extreme drought was eliminated.





March 2017 impact summary: California drought emergency ends; wildfires spread through southern Plains

The two charts above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.
California reservoir conditions and snow water content graphs are from the California Department of Water Resources.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

March marked the end of a wonderful wet season for California as snow in the Sierra Nevada piled up deep, with the snow water content almost rivalling records in the north.  Although the train of storms inundated some parts of the Golden State, causing structural damage and mudslides, the moisture was welcome overall after five years of drought.  Elsewhere in the United States, wildfires broke out in the southern Plains, as warm, dry winds drove flames across a parched landscape, killing people and livestock and destroying many miles of fence.  Dry conditions developed in the Southeast and worsened in Florida, as noted in the Drought Impact Reporter (DIR).  Altogether, 167 impacts were added to the DIR in March, with North Carolina receiving 24 impacts and Florida coming in a close second with 23 impacts.

California largely out of drought

California’s drought emergency finally ended April 7, when Governor Jerry Brown lifted the drought state of emergency in most of the state, while maintaining water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices.  The drought emergency began in January 2014, with a request for a reduction in water use of 20 percent.  In April 2015, Governor Brown announced mandatory conservation measures of 25 percent at a snow survey where there was no snow to measure, highlighting the intense need to conserve because the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which typically provides about one-third of California’s water needs, was alarmingly low.  

Emergency drinking water projects continued in Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties because of diminished groundwater supplies.  These four counties remained in a drought declaration and were not included when the drought emergency ended for the rest of the state on April 7.  Being under the drought declaration allows these counties to continue receiving technical and financial assistance to pay for bottled water and funding for longer-term solutions. 

California governor lifts drought emergency, by Ian James, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun, April 7, 2017

Governor's Drought Declaration, California Department of Water Resources (Sacramento, Calif.), April 7, 2017

Gov. Brown declares California drought emergency is over, by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2017

Governor Brown Lifts Drought Emergency, Retains Prohibition On Wasteful Practices, Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. (Sacramento, Calif.), April 7, 2017

State may be drenched, but ‘drought’ label remains on Valley and it’s partly about money, by Marc Benjamin and Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno (Calif.) Bee, April 7, 2017

Sierra Nevada records deep snowpack

The Sierra Nevada snowpack topped out at 164 percent of average water content on March 30, according to electronic sensors.  At Phillips Station near Lake Tahoe, a manual snow measurement found nearly 8 feet of snow with a water content of 183 percent of normal.  Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said there were snowdrifts of up to 20 feet at higher elevations in the central and southern Sierra. 

While the thick snowpack was desperately needed after years of drought, the amazing depth also brings the possibility of flooding when the snow melts, given that much of the state’s soils were saturated after atmospheric rivers sent a series of prolific storms. 

By early April, the northern Sierra Nevada was within 5 inches of having its wettest year on record at 83.5 inches.  Another storm or two delivering a total of 5 inches before September 30 would make the 2016-17 winter the wettest on record. 

California's robust mountain snowpack boosts flood concerns, by Scott Smith, Associated Press, Napa Valley (Calif.) Register, March 30, 2017

Northern Sierra is now only 5 inches from wettest water year on record, by Amy Graff, SFGate.com (San Francisco), April 5, 2017

Wildfires spread over southern Plains

Warm, dry weather in March contributed to an outbreak of wildfires from Colorado, across Kansas and Oklahoma, and into Texas.   Hundreds of square miles burned and six lives were lost in the southern Plains as gusty winds drove flames across the dry landscape in early March.  In southern Kansas, an estimated 861 square miles burned in Clark and Comanche counties, setting a new record for the largest single fire in Kansas’ recorded history. Since March 4, grassfires have consumed more than 1,000 square miles and at least 70 structures in 23 Kansas counties. Three blazes in the Texas Panhandle charred nearly 750 square miles, while more than 540 square miles burned in Oklahoma. Wildfire activity in northeastern Colorado also blackened dozens of square miles.

Q&A: A look at questions about current US wildfires, by Jim Suhr, Associated Press, March 8, 2017

North Carolina CoCoRaHS observers note low water levels, wildfires

All of the impacts for North Carolina during March were from CoCoRaHS observers, who described low ponds and creeks, plants needing watering, and wildfires. 

Low water supplies, rain deficit increase wildfire threat in Florida

Dry winter and early spring weather drained water supplies and primed Florida for wildfires.  In South Florida, water supplies were low, leaving private wells running dry.  Lake Okeechobee’s water level has fallen below the minimum range to protect the region’s water supply.  The lake level has been dropping at twice the normal rate for this time of year, reaching 12.46 feet above sea level on April 3, or 2.66 feet lower than this time last spring.  In parts of north and central Florida, the St. Johns River Water Management District announced a water shortage warning, asking customers to conserve. 

The rain deficit increased the wildfire threat in South Florida, where the number of brush fires was higher than in 2011 and double that seen during 2016. Since the start of the year, 59 fires have been reported in the Everglades District, which encompasses Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties.

No help in sight as Lehigh wells running dry, by Dave Elias, NBC2 WBBH-TV (Fort Myers, Fla.), April 2, 2017

Lake Okeechobee's water level drops below targeted range, raising water supply concerns, by Andy Reid, (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun Sentinel, April 4, 2017

Water shortage warning issued by St. Johns district, by Cystal Moyer, WJXT-TV CBS 4 Jacksonville (Fla.), March 15, 2017

Unusual temperatures this weekend, but it’s not summer just yet, by Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, April 1, 2017


For more drought information, see the Drought Impact Reporter.

The National Drought Mitigation Center | University of Nebraska-Lincoln
3310 Holdrege Street | P.O. Box 830988 | Lincoln, NE 68583–0988
phone: (402) 472–6707 | fax: (402) 472–2946 | Contact Us | Web Policy

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Copyright 2018 National Drought Mitigation Center