Thursday, March 22, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought fell below 30% of lower 48 in October, held on in West, and intensified in Texas and Oklahoma

by Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologist

Drought: Drought conditions improved slightly during October, with 29.61 percent of the contiguous United States in at least moderate drought at the end of the month, compared to 30.57 at the end of September. The area in severe and extreme drought also decreased, although exceptional drought expanded fractionally, from 3.85 percent to 3.99 percent. By the end of October, 71 million people were affected by drought and almost 30 million were affected by exceptional drought. Last year at this time, only 133,000 people were in exceptional drought areas.

Temperature:  October was a warm month over most of the United States. Almost all areas from the Plains to the West Coast recorded above-normal temperatures for the month. The warmest temperatures were in the southern Plains, northern Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest, where temperatures were 4-8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The Midwest experienced temperatures that were normal to slightly below normal for the month. The coolest temperatures, 2-4 degrees below normal, were in Wisconsin, eastern Iowa, and northern Illinois. To the east, New England experienced temperatures that were 4-6 degrees above normal, while Florida temperatures were 2 degrees cooler than usual in October.

Precipitation:  October precipitation was in abundance from eastern Nebraska into the Midwest and Tennessee River Valley and up into New England. Some areas of Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, northern Alabama and Maine had 6-7 inches above normal precipitation for the month. The Pacific Northwest had wet weather late in the month, including coastal regions that got 3-5 inches more rain than normal. On the other end of the spectrum, much of the High Plains, southern Plains, Southeast, and West were 3-4 inches drier than normal.

Outlook: The November outlook is showing little change to drought conditions over the western United States. Some areas of the southern Plains will see drought conditions ease and possibly be eliminated, especially in central Texas and central Oklahoma. Drought will continue to improve over the Northeast while drought will persist in the Southeast.

Movers & Shakers for October 2014

Percent area

Sept. 30, 2014
Percent area

Oct. 28, 2014
Status Percentage point change

Biggest increase in drought
80.24 moderate 3.63
Biggest improvements to drought
17.23 moderate 9.76

52.39 45.51
moderate 6.88
26.35 20.01 severe 6.34
Kansas 46.13 37.50 moderate
Massachusetts 26.58 0.12
moderate 26.46
New Mexico
8.08 1.53 extreme 6.55
Oklahoma 73.31 64.49 moderate 8.82
Rhode Island
99.02 79.03 moderate

Regional Overviews


With temperatures generally 2-6 degrees above normal for October, summer lingered in the Northeast. Along with the warmer-than-normal temperatures, precipitation was also above normal for most of the region. Departures of up to 6 inches above normal in eastern Maine, 4 inches above normal in eastern Massachusetts, and 2 inches above normal in central and eastern New York were common due to a late October Nor’easter that brought heavy rains. Drought decreased from 3.56 to 2.37 percent of the region during the month, and was mainly in areas of Connecticut, eastern New York, and Rhode Island.


The Southeast had a warm month of above-normal temperatures, with Florida being the only exception. Temperatures were as much as 5 degrees above normal in Mississippi and 3 degrees above normal in Virginia, but most of the Florida peninsula was 2 degrees below normal. Most of the coastal areas of the Southeast were dry, recording precipitation that was as much as 3 inches below normal for the month. In contrast, areas from northern Alabama to Virginia were 4-6 inches wetter than normal. Drought eased in the region, with 6.56 percent of the Southeast in drought at the end of the month, compared to 9.31 percent four weeks earlier.


Temperatures were normal to slightly below normal for most of the Midwest in October. But areas of southern Missouri, western Iowa, and western Minnesota were 2-4 degrees above normal for the month. The region was wet in October, with almost all areas recording above-normal precipitation. Parts of Missouri and southern Illinois were 3-6 inches above normal for the month. Exceptions were areas of northwest Iowa, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin. Drought remains a non-issue in the region. It was drought-free at the end of October, with only a handful of abnormally dry areas, mainly in Minnesota.

High Plains

The Plains had a warm month, with temperatures 4-6 degrees above normal over almost all of the region, and most of the region was normal or slightly dry in October. Exceptions were areas in southwest Kansas, eastern Nebraska and eastern Kansas, which were as much as 4 inches wetter than usual. The region showed net improvement during the month, with areas in moderate or worse drought decreasing from 12.14 to 10.69 percent, areas severe or worse decreasing from 5.98 to 5.65 percent, and areas extreme or worse decreasing from 0.86 to 0.36 percent.


As with much of the Plains, the South saw temperatures well above normal in October. Most areas were 2-6 degrees warmer than normal, with the warmest temperatures in north central Texas. Precipitation was confined to the northern extent of the region where areas of Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and east central Texas were 1-4 inches wetter than normal for the month. Areas of central and south Texas as well as southwest Oklahoma were 3-4 inches drier than normal for the month. Drought eased slightly, with 34.58 percent of the region in drought at the end of the month compared to 35.49 percent in late September. Severe drought went from 22.66 to 21.54 percent of the region. However, extreme and exceptional drought expanded slightly, to 9.07 and 2.74 percent, respectively.


The West was warmer than normal by as much as 4-6 degrees in October. Toward the end of the month, several storms brought precipitation to portions of northern California, the Oregon coast, Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. This helped to push precipitation totals above normal for the month, by as much as 6-7 inches in some coastal areas. Most of the rest of the region was dry. Drought conditions were mostly unchanged, with some areas of improvement in the Northwest where the late-month rains and snows fell. The region ended October with 55.05 percent in drought, compared to 55.57 percent four weeks earlier.

Prolonged drought causing water woes for agriculture, rural residents and wildlife

Of the 108 impacts in the Drought Impact Reporter for October, the largest portions deal with Water Supply & Quality and with government responses.

Most of the impacts added to the Drought Impact Reporter in October dealt with California, with Texas a distant second.
As of Oct. 29, 392 Texas water systems had imposed voluntary water use restrictions, and 793, mandatory restrictions, as reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As of Nov. 4, Texas water supply reservoirs were 62.1 percent full, according to Water Data for Texas.
Reservoirs in central and western Texas were low after years of drought, as of Nov. 4, according to Water Data for Texas.
This graph of current reservoir conditions from the California Department of Water Resources shows that as of Nov. 4, the amount of water stored in all of the state's large reservoirs was significantly below historical averages.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

Prolonged drought from Texas to the West Coast has depleted stored water and led to actions to address water supplies, as recorded in the Drought Impact Reporter. In California, wells continued to go dry, making the drought and declining water table a personal matter. Fewer agricultural jobs and less income also kept the drought situation very near and present for agricultural families in the Central Valley. So far, 108 impacts have been entered for October, with 72 of those for California and 22 for Texas.


Residents of rural communities without running water

Dwindling water resources across California have stressed communities and individuals who have to make do with less water or find alternate sources. Shallow wells in the Central Valley continued to go dry, forcing some families to rely on donated water. In Kings County, residents of Stratford have seen their water table fall 100 feet in two years. With no water during the ongoing drought, there are few jobs and little money, taking a harsh toll on the small community of about 900 people. Numerous communities were suffering similarly, with the need for food assistance rising as people run short on funds and cannot buy food.

Two entities helping to ease hunger and provide services are the Central Valley Community Bank, which launched a program called “Food Fund Challenge,” to which people can donate to help their neighbors, and Kaiser Permanente, which offered $500,000 in grants to help Fresno County residents by providing food, drinking water, healthcare and other services.  

“With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate,” by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, Oct. 2, 2014
“A parched farm town is sinking, and so are its residents' hearts,”
by Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24, 2014
“Bank’s regional donation drive includes Sacramento food bank,” by Mark Glover, Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Oct. 9, 2014
“Kaiser Permanente awards $500,000 in grants for Fresno County drought impacts,” by Rory Appleton, Fresno Bee (Calif.), Oct. 21, 2014

Litigation over water supplies

California farmers were frustrated with not receiving irrigation water this year and they hope for abundant winter storms to replenish water supplies. Growers in the Friant Water Authority have sued the State Water Resources Control Board over water supply decisions, claiming water that belonged to them was given to others. Meanwhile, growers in the Nevada Irrigation District learned that they would not receive fall irrigation water because the district does not have enough storage and supply to deliver any. There was also confusion over whether the district has the legal right to divert and deliver water from Sierra Nevada streams after orders from the State Water Resources Control Board curtailed water rights earlier this year.

“Farmers sue state over drought water decisions,” by Mark Grossi, Fresno Bee (Calif.), Oct. 28, 2014
“Nevada Irrigation District suspends some water deliveries,” by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Oct. 28, 2014

Service connection moratoriums

Meanwhile, across the state, dwindling water resources led to temporary service connection moratoriums in 22 California communities when the State Water Resources Board determined that the towns could not meet demand.

“Temporary moratorium for new water service connections ordered in Hidden Valley Lake,” Lake County News (Vacaville, California), Oct. 28, 2014

High quality wine grapes

The lack of rain made it difficult to grow many types of crops in the usual quantities, but grapes thrived. Vintners said they have not tasted such exquisite grapes as were produced this season since the last California drought in 2007-2009. Drought allows the grapes to remain small, which concentrates the sugar and flavors, leading to high quality grapes for wine.

“California Drought Produces Tastier Wine Grapes,” by Jim Carlton, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 7, 2014

Scarce hay

Hay growers, on the other hand, were not able to produce much high quality organic or conventional hay. Cattle ranchers and dairy farmers have been hard pressed for the past two years to find suitable hay and have had to look to great distances and pay high shipping costs.

“Drought causing hay shortages among farmers, ranchers,” by Ching Lee, Woodland Daily Democrat, Oct. 23, 2014

Wildlife habitat less hospitable

The parched California landscape left wildlife hunting for food and water and struggling to produce and rear young. In the San Joaquin Valley, the quail shooting outlook on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley was dismal because prolonged drought quashed reproduction this year. Very few quail and chukar chicks were hatched this spring as there was no cover or humidity to help with rearing chicks.

Bears, too, were having trouble finding adequate food and water in their usual habitat in Yosemite National Park, in Kern County and around Lake Tahoe and were being seen in residential areas more frequently, posing a danger for people.

“Steve Merlo: Faced with dwindling quail growth, hunters should give birds a break,” by Stever Merlo, Bakersfield Californian, Oct. 16, 2014
“Surge in Sierra bears reported; 9 caught in 2 days,” by Scott Sonner, Associated Press, Oct. 2, 2014
“Yosemite Rangers Try to Keep Hungry Bears at Bay,” by Scott Smith, Associated Press, Oct. 25, 2014
“Minimize chance of encounter with bears,” by Ruth Brown, Bakersfield Californian, Oct. 22, 2014

Wetland habitat affected

Habitat for migrating waterfowl continued to be a concern so the Natural Resources Conservation Service offered farmers in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties compensation for flooding their fields. Many state-protected Western pond turtles, too, were having a hard time and were dying from starvation and illness at a pond in northern Los Angeles County. The pond that previously was home to them has become a malodorous, alkaline puddle.

“Sacramento Valley farmers are asked: Help the ducks,” by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee (Calif.), Oct. 28, 2014
“In wake of drought and fires, turtle habitat becomes death trap,” by Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4, 2014

Landscaping businesses thrive in drought

While drought parches the landscape, however, some businesses benefit from the dry spell. The California synthetic turf industry is thriving as sales skyrocket. One South Bay landscaper reported jumps in annual revenues from under $300,000 in 2012 to more than $2.5 million in the first nine months of the year. An artificial grass supplier based in Torrance reported turf sales for 2014 are on track to be double those of 2013, when 625,000 square feet of turf were sold.

“California drought boosts South Bay synthetic turf businesses as homeowners turn to artificial grass,” by Jordan England-Nelson, Torrance Daily Breeze (Calif.), Oct. 27, 2-14

Water equity issues

Low reservoirs and drying rivers have Californians coveting water, especially that kept for recreational use. Lake Mission Viejo holds 1.2 billion gallons of potable water that is reserved for the elite living around the recreational lake, while some California communities’ wells and other water supplies have dried up. The lake loses roughly 88 million gallons to evaporation annually and is refilled with potable water.

There was scandal about filling the lake in 1977 during a historic drought, which led to an order from the California Water Board to stop filling the lake. When the drought eased one year later, the lake was filled with water from the Colorado River.

“Lake Mission Viejo isn't feeling California drought — yet,” by Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 30, 2014


Texas reservoirs low after years of drought

Nearly four years of drought have taken a harsh toll on northwest Texas water supplies as reservoir levels fell and were slightly lower than at this time last year. Residents of Rule in Haskell County were asked to use no more than 5,000 gallons of water per month. Wichita Falls remained in a Stage 5 drought catastrophe. In Texas, 792 water systems had mandatory water restrictions in effect, including 322 that depend on surface water, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Property valuations around Lake Travis continued to rise, despite the low level of the lake and increasing distances from the shoreline to homes that were once waterfront property. Lake Travis has fallen to 41 feet below average.

“As rain stays away, a parched region seeks relief,” by Bill Hanna, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas), Oct. 27, 2014
“Land appraisals disputed as drought shrinks lake,” by Associated Press, Austin American-Statesman (Texas), Oct. 27, 2014

Edwards Aquifer Authority pays farmers not to irrigate

To conserve water, the Edwards Aquifer Authority in south Texas will offer the Voluntary Irrigation Suspension Program Option in 2015. The program conserves water in the aquifer by giving payments to farmers and other heavy water users in exchange for them not irrigating.

“New drought tool: pay farmers not to irrigate,” by Scott Huddleston, My San (Texas), Oct. 1, 2014

Low water levels threaten wildlife

Texas salamanders and clams were threatened by the persistent drought. Near San Marcos, salamanders were collected from the wild and kept in a refuge to protect the species from extreme conditions that would endanger the population. Meanwhile, there were far fewer rangia clams in a northeast inlet of Galveston Bay. The reduced populations suggested to scientists that the Trinity River was not supplying enough fresh water to sustain the clams.

“Scientists dive into work to protect salamanders,” by William Luther, Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), Oct. 8, 2014
“Deaths of Galveston Bay clams may signal trouble,” by Matthew Tresaugue, Wichita Falls Times Record News (Texas), Oct. 31, 2014


Fewer wetlands

Duck habitat was a problem in Nevada, too, like in California, with fewer places for the waterfowl to stop as water holes dry up. Wildlife experts say that ducks will keep flying south past the state, searching for better wintering grounds elsewhere if Nevada is too dry, resulting in hunters bagging fewer ducks.

“Western drought disrupts Nevada duck migration,” by Benjamin Spillman, Reno Gazette-Journal (Nev.), Oct. 29, 2014


Water supplies a concern for businesses

Oklahoma’s dwindling water supplies have become more of a concern to businesses considering relocating to the state. Companies contemplating the move more frequently ask whether the region has a ready, dependable supply of water. Ten years ago that issue was not typically among concerns businesses had about moving to the state.

“Oklahoma's dwindling water supply takes economic toll on state, officials say," by Silas Allen, (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Oct. 23, 2014

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