Thursday, April 19, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Climate for March 2018: Northern plains, parts of California and Oregon 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 Curtis Riganti, NDMC Climatologist


March brought some improvement in the northern Plains and parts of California and Oregon. Meanwhile, conditions worsened in much of the central and southern High Plains, Desert Southwest, Florida Peninsula, and adjacent areas of the Carolinas and Georgia. Exceptional drought was introduced in parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, southwest Kansas, and northwest Oklahoma, while extreme drought was expanded over much of the Four Corners region and extended into southeast California and the southern High Plains.  Overall, during the month of March the area impacted by drought decreased slightly, from 26.15 to 25.01, while the approximate number of people being impacted by drought increased from 57.3 to 60.1 million.

Drought Outlook

The monthly drought outlook for April indicates that long-term drought is likely to persist across southern California and the Southwest as the region enters its climatologically dry season.  Persistence is also likely across the extreme to exceptional drought areas of the central and southern High Plains, southeast Georgia, South Carolina, and the Alaska Panhandle.  A slight expansion of drought is expected across south Florida. Areas where improvement is favored include Oregon, parts of northern Utah and Colorado, eastern Kansas, parts of Texas, and South Dakota.


During March, temperatures ran above normal in the southern Plains, Louisiana, much of Arkansas, eastern and central Colorado, eastern New Mexico, and northern Maine. The largest warm departures from normal were found in Texas, particularly in the southern Hill Country, coastal plain, and Panhandle; these areas had temperatures from 3 to 9 degrees above normal during March. The Ohio Valley, eastern Great Lakes region, and coastal southeastern states saw below-normal temperatures in March, with the coolest conditions relative to normal (3 to 9 degrees below normal) being found from western Pennsylvania to central North Carolina. Colder conditions also prevailed in parts of the northern High Plains, with the coolest conditions (6 to 12 degrees below normal) taking place in eastern Montana and northwest South Dakota.


The Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, northern New England, the Southeast, the central and southern Plains, and the Desert Southwest all recorded below-normal precipitation during March.  Departures for most locations were less than 2 inches below normal, with the exception of coastal Washington and the Florida Panhandle, which recorded departures of 4.7 inches below normal. Areas receiving above-normal precipitation include much of California, parts of the Intermountain West, the northern Plains, and a swath stretching northward from eastern Texas to the Ohio River Valley.  Parts of California, including the Sierra Nevada and the Ojai Valley, recorded over 5 inches above their normal monthly totals.

Regional Overviews


March brought highly variable conditions to the Northeast. Wet conditions prevailed in coastal Massachusetts, Long Island, parts of New Jersey, and northwest Pennsylvania. Drier conditions occurred in central Pennsylvania, western Massachusetts, southern Vermont and southern Maine. With the exception of central and northern Maine, much of the rest of the Northeast experienced cooler than normal temperatures during March. The most significant cooler region was in central and western Pennsylvania and New York, where temperatures ran 4 degrees or more below normal. The small amount of moderate drought coverage decreased slightly, from 0.18 to 0.12 percent, during March.


During March, dry conditions continued in the Florida Peninsula and in most coastal regions, except for the northern North Carolina coast. Dry conditions were also rampant in the southern two-thirds of Alabama and Georgia, in the eastern two-thirds of Virginia, and in most of South Carolina aside from the upstate region. Generally, the driest conditions were in the Florida Peninsula, where many areas saw less than 50 percent of their normal rainfall for the month. Temperatures during March were generally cooler than normal in the Southeast. The coolest conditions took place in the eastern two-thirds of North Carolina and Virginia, where temperatures were 4 or more degrees below normal in some locales. Drought generally intensified and expanded in coverage over the Southeast (especially in southern and central Georgia and the Florida Peninsula), while northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia, and far northern Virginia saw some improvement in conditions. Moderate drought coverage increased from 12.52 to 26.31 percent, and severe drought was introduced in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, and covered 6.68 percent of the region at the end of March.

Movers & Shakers for March 2018

Percent area February 27, 2018

Percent area March 27, 2018 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Arizona 73.22 92.63 Severe 19.41
9.27 47.49 Extreme 38.22
Colorado 33.51 51.56 Severe 18.05
7.62 23.63 Extreme 16.01
Florida 6.60 25.71 Moderate 19.11
0 4.14 Severe 4.14
Georgia 26.88 51.19 Moderate 24.31
0 16.00 Severe 16.00
Kansas 73.49 81.66 Moderate 8.17
34.44 56.19 Severe 21.75
9.50 25.59 Extreme 16.09
0 4.32 Exceptional 4.32
New Mexico 5.23 38.87 Extreme 33.64
Oklahoma 0 15.11 Exceptional 15.11
South Carolina 0 51.47 Moderate 51.47
0 24.05 Severe 24.05
Utah 51.65 59.11 Severe 7.46
12.72 21.05 Extreme 8.33
Biggest improvements in drought
California 47.87 40.9 Moderate 6.97
19.98 12.72 Severe 7.26
Minnesota 4.41 1.37 Moderate 3.04
Missouri 16.22 9.14 Moderate 7.08
Montana 14.60 5.79 Moderate 8.81
6.11 2.11 Severe 4.00
North Dakota 64.73 42.03 Moderate 22.70
Oklahoma 66.20 47.44 Moderate 18.76
Oregon 38.32 32.89 Moderate 5.43
South Dakota 56.73 32.48 Moderate 24.25
16.01 12.01 Severe 4.00
Texas 55.19 49.43 Moderate 5.76
Virginia 12.31 9.00 Moderate 3.31


Very dry conditions continued in parts of the southern High Plains during March, particularly in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and in western and parts of central Oklahoma. Other particularly dry areas (relative to normal for March) included coastal Louisiana, southwest Texas (particularly the Big Bend region), and the Lower Rio Grande Valley. A narrow corridor from south-central Texas northeast to central Tennessee saw well above normal precipitation for the month. Slightly cooler than normal conditions prevailed in parts of Tennessee. Meanwhile, temperatures in much of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas were warmer than normal. The warmest areas, where temperatures were 4 to 8 degrees above normal, were from central Texas to the Texas Gulf Coast and in the northern Texas Panhandle. Drought conditions improved in much of central and eastern Oklahoma and in parts of central Texas. Meanwhile, conditions in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and in northwest Oklahoma worsened because of scarce precipitation and warm temperatures, leading to the introduction of exceptional drought in northwest Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and portions of the Texas Panhandle. At the end of March, moderate drought coverage in the South had decreased from 36.9 to 31.28 percent, severe drought had decreased from 16.97 to 16.5 percent, extreme drought coverage had increased from 10.17 to 11.31 percent, and exceptional drought was introduced and covered 2.75 percent of the region.


Wet conditions in eastern Missouri and central and southern Illinois and Indiana allowed for lingering drought in eastern Missouri to be removed. Above-normal precipitation also took place in northwest Iowa and western Minnesota, leading to the removal of drought in a small area of west-central Minnesota. Meanwhile, dry conditions prevailed from the Chicago area northward through much of eastern Minnesota and most of Wisconsin. The Michigan Upper Peninsula and the northern half of Lower Michigan were also quite dry for March. Dry conditions also occurred in northwest Missouri, leading to the development of moderate drought there. Temperatures during March were mostly close to normal across the Midwest, with a few exceptions. Parts of southeast Iowa, northeast Missouri, Ohio, and Indiana had temperatures 4 to 6 degrees below normal for the month. During March, moderate drought coverage in the Midwest decreased from 4.15 to 2.37 percent.

High Plains

Precipitation was variable across the High Plains region during March, with the main highlights being very dry conditions in Kansas and much of Colorado, and wetter conditions in parts of the Dakotas. Extremely dry conditions occurred in southwest Kansas, leading to the development of exceptional drought there. Meanwhile, very wet conditions occurred in central North Dakota. In March, warmer than normal temperatures were common in much of Colorado (particularly eastern Colorado) and western Kansas. Meanwhile, cooler than normal conditions were common in the Dakotas, with the coolest temperatures taking place in the western Dakotas. During March, moderate drought coverage in the High Plains decreased from 44.54 to 39.79 percent, severe drought coverage increased from 15.45 to 22.09 percent, extreme drought coverage increased from 3.09 to 8.97 percent, and exceptional drought was introduced in southwest Kansas and covered 0.70 percent of the region.


In March, precipitation was highly variable across the West. The Sierra Nevada received over 200 percent of their normal March precipitation, allowing that area to improve out of drought and abnormally dry conditions. Meanwhile, much of southern Arizona, southeast Utah, and most of New Mexico continued to receive below-normal precipitation. Parts of western Washington and Oregon also received below-normal precipitation. Wet conditions were common in northern Nevada and the eastern Snake River Valley in Idaho. Colder than normal temperatures occurred in central and eastern Montana, as well as in parts of the Sierra Nevada. Meanwhile, conditions were warmer than normal in eastern and southern New Mexico. Elsewhere, temperatures were relatively close to normal for March. During March, extreme drought expanded outward from the Four Corners region to cover large portions of southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, northeast Arizona, and southeast Utah. Moderate drought coverage decreased from 45.57 percent to 43.02 percent, severe drought coverage increased from 25.09 percent to 27.63 percent, and extreme drought coverage increased from 3.01 to 12.46 percent.



March 2018 impact summary: Heightened fire danger, poor snowpack affecting Southwest

The map on the left shows Secretarial drought designations as of April 4, 2018; the chart on the right summarizes information from the Drought Impact Reporter.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

March was a dry month for the Southwest and parts of the southern Plains, where the snowpack was poor and crops and water supplies were suffering.  The month brought beneficial precipitation in the northern Plains, parts of Texas and California’s Sierra Nevada and eased drought conditions.  The NDMC added 139 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in March, with about half of the impacts coming from CoCoRaHS observers documenting heightened fire danger and changes in the landscape. Of the 139 impacts, 36 were for Texas, 26 for New Mexico, and 19 for Colorado, while all other states had 15 or fewer impacts.

Southern Plains winter wheat deteriorating

As drought continued to intensify in the southern Plains, the winter wheat crop continued to deteriorate.  The National Agricultural Statistics Service rated winter wheat as being in poor or very poor condition for 74 percent of the crop in New Mexico, 72 percent in Oklahoma, 53 percent in both Kansas and Texas, and 27 percent in Colorado as of mid-March.  Numerous counties were given secretarial drought designations in March as drought continued. 

Drought persists in High Plains as large proportion of winter wheat crop suffers, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal (Dodge City, Kansas), March 15, 2018

Colorado River Basin runoff forecast lower than normal

Drought also continued to intensify in the Southwest, with the Colorado River Basin on track to see the sixth-driest runoff season into Lake Powell since the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed 55 years ago.  The projected April-July runoff season was expected to provide only 43 percent of the typical inflow during an average year.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projected that Lake Mead, downstream from Lake Powell, would remain high enough to avoid mandated cutbacks in 2019, but could be near shortage levels in 2020. 

Colorado’s snowpack dwindled, and stream flows in nearly a quarter of the state were forecast at half of average.  In southern New Mexico, irrigation allotments were anticipated to be exceedingly low near the Rio Grande, and in Arizona, many stock tanks were dry. 

After dry winter, Colorado River forecasters look for 6th-driest runoff year, by Brandon Loomis, AzCentral (Phoenix, ArizonA), April 4, 2018

Mountain snowpack shrinks to 66 percent of normal, feds sound drought alarm, by Bruce Finley, The Denver Post, April 5, 2018

Drought expands across Southwestern US, by Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), March 29, 2018

Texas crops, pastures struggling without rain

Parts of western Texas continued to descend into drought through March, at a time when some amount of rain is needed to moisten the soil ahead of spring planting.  Winter wheat continued to deteriorate in the Texas Panhandle and cattle were allowed to graze what remained of it.  In the west central part of the state, farmers were waiting for rain to plant crops.  High winds and dry weather were affecting planting decisions in Far West Texas, where producers were opting not to plant corn, because of high pre-irrigation needs and economics of the situation.  Parts of South Texas saw declines in pasture and rangeland conditions because of the lack of rain, resulting in more cattle being sold at auction. Rio Grande Valley farmers were planting cotton seeds far deeper than normal to reach moist soil to encourage the seeds to germinate. 

Texas Crop and Weather Report – March 13, 2018, by Adam Russell, The Bryan College Station Eagle (Texas), March 13, 2018

Drought Affecting Valley Farmers in Planting Season, KRGV-TV Channel 5 Weslaco (Texas), March 21, 2018

Texas Crop and Weather Report - March 20, by Adam Russell, North Texas e-News (Fannin, Texas), March 20, 2018

Poor irrigation supplies, formidable fire season forecast for New Mexico

New Mexico had a very dry winter with snowpack levels at the lowest level since 2000, which did not bode well for irrigation in the southern part of the state.  The Elephant Butte Irrigation District in southern New Mexico announced an initial allocation of 10 acre-inches to be delivered to district members. The allotment was not expected to increase because spring runoff will be limited.

The fire season was expected to be a difficult one as fire activity was already above normal with more than 140 fires consuming roughly 50 square miles of state and private land since the start of the year, nearly as much as burned in 2017. In comparison, just 76 fires were reported during the same period in 2017.  The expectation of a formidable fire season was supported by severe drought conditions, snowpack near historic lows and a thick grass crop from the previous year. 

New Mexico snowpack levels lowest in years, less water for farmers, by Nate Barrett, KBDC CBS 4 Local (El Paso, Texas), April 3, 2018

Drought Impacts Las Cruces Area Irrigation Allotment, by Elephant Butte Irrigation District, KRWG Public Broadcasting (Las Cruces, New Mexico), March 21, 2018

Fire Season 2018: Hotter, faster fires expected this year, by Ollie Reed Jr., ABQJournal Online (Albuquerque, New Mexico), March 18, 2018

New Mexico officials: Be prepared for a severe fire season, by Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press, The Cortez Journal (Colorado), March 27, 2018

Governor issues drought declarations for all Kansas counties

Drought conditions in Kansas prompted official actions to cope with the ongoing dry winter.  On March 13, Governor Jeff Colyer issued drought declarations for all 105 counties with Executive Order 18-11, recognizing 28 counties as being in emergency status, 29 in warning status and 48 in a watch status.  Counties in emergency status were eligible for emergency water use from certain state fishing lakes.  Kansas lawmakers also requested emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands because of ongoing drought.  Precipitation had been 66 percent of normal for the previous six months.

Governor declares drought emergency, warnings, watches, The Hays Daily News (Kansas), March 13, 2018

Kansas Delegation Calls for Emergency Haying and Grazing, USAgNet (Marshfield, Wisconsin), March 20, 2018

Late-season storms boost Sierra Nevada snowpack

March storms significantly boosted snowpack in the Sierra Nevada from about a quarter of normal at the start of the month to 52 percent of normal on April 2.  The late-season storms were very helpful and, fortunately, reservoirs were still full from last year’s abundant winter precipitation.

Late-winter storms slow California's dive back into drought, by Rich Pedroncelli and Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle (, April 2, 2018

Livestock in northern Great Plains still affected by 2017 drought conditions

The poor pasture conditions in North Dakota and poor nutrition from summer 2017 were reflected in the number of preterm abortions and dead calves in spring 2018.  More mid- and late-season abortions were reported in central and western North Dakota than in other parts of the state as drought persisted to a far lesser degree than in summer 2017. 

End-of-the-year tallies revealed that the 2017 drought caused an estimated $2.5 billion economic impact for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ranchers seeing increase in aborted calves, by Lauren Donovan, WDAZ-TV 8 Grand Forks (North Dakota), March 29, 2018

Farmers, ranchers coping with dry conditions, by Amy Dalrymple, The Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota), March 25, 2018


For more drought information, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.



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