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Drought and Climate for April 2019: Precipitation surpluses in the West and South lead to drought contraction and removal

by Claire Shield

Drought


For the third month in a row, coverage of all drought severity categories was reduced.  Moderate drought decreased 2.79 percent to 2.64 percent and severe drought was reduced 0.54 percent to 0.51 percent.  The country remained free of extreme and exceptional drought in April.  The population within drought was reduced more than 50 percent—from 9.3 to 4 million.

Drought Outlook


In the next month, drought is expected to persist and expand into most of western Washington and in eastern Georgia, northern Florida, and southern South Carolina. Drought is expected to persist in the current drought areas in southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle.  In contrast, drought improvement and removal is likely in the Four Corners region, New Mexico, and Texas.

Temperatures


Temperatures ranged from slightly above normal to 4 degrees above normal throughout most of the U.S. during April.  Pockets of the West, Southeast, and Northeast saw slightly warmer temperatures (up to 6 degrees above normal) and areas of Montana, the Dakotas, the northern Midwest, northern New England, and the South saw cooler than normal temperatures (up to 4 degrees below normal). 

Precipitation


Much of California and Arizona, western Nevada, the Four Corners area, southeast Wyoming, the central Plains, northern North Dakota, western Iowa, and western Missouri saw well below normal precipitation (5 to 50 percent of normal).  Meanwhile, much of the remainder of the country saw adequate precipitation between 100 and 300 percent of normal, leading to the 12th wettest April on record for the CONUS.

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.

Regional Overviews


Northeast

Precipitation was primarily near normal or above normal throughout the region (90 to 200 percent of normal).  Drier than normal conditions were found in large areas of West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, and small pockets of Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont, where precipitation ranged between 50 and 90 percent of normal.  Temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees warmer than normal from Pennsylvania southward, and ranged from slightly above normal to 3 degrees below normal in the northern half of the region.  Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware even saw top 5 warmest Aprils on record.  Despite the slightly dry conditions in some areas, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut saw top 10 wettest Aprils on record and the region remained drought-free throughout the month.

Southeast

For the most part, precipitation was abundant in the Southeast in April, ranging from 110 to 300 percent of normal in many areas.  Exceptions include northeast Florida, southern Florida, and southern Georgia, and small pockets in Alabama, the Carolinas, and Virginia, where precipitation was 25 to 90 percent of normal.  Temperatures ranged from slightly above normal to 4 degrees above normal throughout much of the region.  However, pockets of Virginia and North Carolina saw conditions as warm as 6 degrees above normal while parts of northern Florida, southern Georgia, and Alabama saw temperatures up to 2 degrees below normal.  The areas of moderate drought in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina shifted slightly throughout the month, but coverage was only reduced 1.74 percent, to 7.99 percent.  Abnormal dryness, however, was reduced 8.23 percent, leaving 29.42 percent coverage.

South

Many areas within the South saw 150 to more than 300 percent of normal precipitation.  This led to the contraction and removal of areas of dryness and drought in southern Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In fact, severe drought was absent from the region by the end of April (compared to 1.32 percent at the beginning of the month) and coverage of moderate drought was reduced 5.68 percent to 0.77 percent. Small pockets of Texas and Oklahoma, however, saw only 25 to 70 percent of normal precipitation.  Temperatures throughout the region ranged from 2 to 4 degrees above normal in western Texas, parts of Oklahoma, and Tennessee, to 1 to 4 degrees below normal in southern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. 

Midwest

Much of Iowa and Missouri and small pockets of Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, western Illinois, central Michigan, and eastern Kentucky saw only 25 to 90 percent of normal precipitation.  Meanwhile, the remainder of the region saw precipitation ranging from 100 to 200 percent of normal.  Temperatures were warmer than normal in southern Iowa and Indiana, and much of Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky (2 to 5 degrees above normal), and cooler than normal in much of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Michigan, and in parts of western Iowa, northern Illinois, and northern Indiana (1 to 4 degrees below normal).  The remainder of the region saw temperatures within a degree of normal.  The region was drought-free the entire month of April.

High Plains

Western Kansas, southern Nebraska, eastern Colorado, southeast Wyoming, northern North Dakota, and a small pocket of south central South Dakota saw the driest conditions during April, with precipitation 5 to 70 percent of normal.  In contrast, southwest Wyoming, parts of western Colorado, much of South Dakota, and a small area of eastern North Dakota saw wet conditions with precipitation 110 to 300 percent of normal.  Areas in between saw precipitation within 30 percent of normal.  The Dakotas and northeast Wyoming saw temperatures ranging from near normal to as much as 4 degrees below normal, while the rest of the region saw temperatures primarily near normal to 4 degrees above normal.  Small pockets of Colorado and Wyoming saw temperatures as much as 6 degrees above normal.  Areas of moderate drought in southwest Wyoming and southern Colorado were removed by the end of the month, while moderate drought was introduced in north central Wyoming and abnormal dryness developed in northwest North Dakota and central Kansas.  With these changes, moderate drought coverage decreased 1.10 percent to 0.43 percent during April. 

West

California, Arizona, western Nevada, southeast Utah, and northwest New Mexico saw the driest conditions during April, with precipitation over large areas totaling 5 to 50 percent of normal.  Dry conditions also existed in small pockets of northern Montana, eastern Oregon, and Idaho. Abundant precipitation was found in large portions of Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, eastern Nevada, western Utah, and New Mexico (130 to 300 percent of normal).  Oregon and Idaho experienced their 3rd and 6th wettest Aprils on record, respectively. Warmer than normal conditions were found throughout much of the region (2 to 5 degrees above normal) and California saw its 8th warmest April on record.  The coolest temperatures were found in pockets of Washington, Idaho, and Montana (1 to 3 degrees below normal).  Areas of drought were reduced during April, leaving only 3.64 percent of the region in moderate drought and 0.69 percent in severe drought.  The region remained free of extreme and exceptional drought throughout the month.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Areas of moderate and severe drought in Alaska remained nearly unchanged during April. In Hawaii, both moderate and severe drought coverage increased during April.  By the end of the month, 37.14 percent of the state was in moderate drought and 3.59 percent was in severe drought.  Moderate drought coverage increased about 50 percent in Puerto Rico, but abnormal dryness in the northwest part of the territory was removed.  Drought is expected to persist in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico through May.

Movers and Shakers for April 2019
StatePercent Area
Mar. 26, 2019
Percent Area
Apr. 30, 2019
StatusChange
Biggest increase in drought
Alabama1.0610.71Moderate9.65
Georgia6.0113.09Moderate7.08
Hawaii1.2137.14Moderate35.93
Hawaii0.483.59Severe3.11
South Carolina13.8723.20Moderate9.33
Washington8.0010.41Moderate2.41
Biggest decrease in drought
Alaska1.931.69Severe0.24
Arizona4.634.59Moderate0.04
Colorado4.740.59Moderate4.15
New Mexico38.7423.31Moderate15.43
New Mexico16.066.75Severe9.31
Texas11.441.46Moderate9.98
Utah3.240.44Moderate2.80
Wyoming2.901.63Moderate1.27
Puerto Rico30.3815.92Moderate14.46

April 2019 impact summary: Precipitation eases drought concerns

by Denise Gutzmer

Drought coverage in the U.S. was near a minimum, coming out of a winter with a weak El Niño influencing the weather.  For the most part, April brought rain and improvement in drought conditions, with a few small areas of drought developing in the Southeast and elsewhere. 

During April, the NDMC added 28 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter.  Texas had the most impacts, with nine concerning agricultural issues.  Alaska had eight impacts, documenting water shortages affecting power supplies in the southeast part of the state.  California followed with four impacts as water agencies dealt with the end of drought.

 

Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved

Years of hard work and negotiations went into the Colorado River drought contingency plan, which was approved by the U.S. House and Senate on April 8.  The plan protects lakes Mead and Powell from being drawn down to the point of being unable to deliver water or produce hydropower.  Persistent drought, climate change and high water demand required a reduction in water use to protect the river system.

On April 16, President Trump signed the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan into law.  Under the plan, the seven states in the basin committed to using less water and leaving more in Lake Mead. 

Ample snowpack in the Colorado River Basin resulted in a forecasted inflow into Lake Powell of 9.20 million acre-feet, or 128 percent of average, from April through July.  The higher inflow is desperately needed with river storage at about 45 percent of capacity after nearly two decades of drought and could bring lakes Mead and Powell to more than 50 percent of capacity. 

US Congress approves Colorado River drought plan, by Associated Press, April 8, 2019

Trump signs Colorado River drought plan, by Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press, April 16, 2019

Snowpack benefits Colorado River operations, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, April 15, 2019

Colorado River basin reservoirs benefit from heavy snowpack, by Associated Press, April 24, 2019

 

Texas agricultural challenges eased

Parts of the Lone Star state were rather dry at the start of April, stressing agriculture and slowing plant growth.   In Far West Texas and the Rolling Plains, wheat needed moisture.  Cotton growers in the Southwest and the Coast Bend awaited rain to plant.  In Central Texas, dry conditions limited grass growth.

Rain during the month, however, ameliorated drought conditions, leaving the state in better shape for the growing season, but a lingering impact from the previous summer remained.  An abundance of weeds afflicted pastures in forage-producing areas like East, Central and Southeast Texas after drought reduced hay production in late 2018.  Unseasonal rain followed drought last year, which resulted in fewer plantings of cool-season forages, allowing weeds to proliferate in spring 2019.

Texas Crop and Weather Report – April 2, 2019, by Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife, April 2, 2019

Texas Crop and Weather Report – April 23, 2019, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), April 23, 2019

 

Alaska less reliant on diesel for electricity

Southeast Alaska was powered by diesel through the winter as drought affected the region.  Excessive use of diesel generators to power communities harmed air quality while reservoirs were too low for hydropower production.  U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sought federal assistance for the communities of Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell, asking that the air quality regulators issue waivers for the power providers in southeast Alaska. 

Toward the end of the month, Petersburg returned to hydropower production, but water conservation was still needed while hydroelectric reservoirs continued to refill.  The community relied on diesel power through the winter as the reservoirs ran low and were not replenished amid a drought.

EPA to exempt rural Alaska from some air quality rules for diesel power, by June Leffler, KSTK-FM 101.7 Public Radio (Wrangell, Alaska), April 4, 2019

Electricity conservation still urged to refill Southeast hydro lakes, by Joe Viechnicki, KFSK, KTOO Public Media (Juneau, Alaska), April 29, 2019

 

California communities emerging from drought restrictions

While drought ended in California in March, water suppliers and communities were still ending water restrictions and declarations as the water supply looked to be much improved with the plentiful snow in the mountains.  In Goleta, a water emergency declaration ended on April 9 after taking effect in May 2015.  In Santa Barbara, the City Council chose to end its Stage Three Drought Emergency on April 9 and end four years of drought water use regulations. 

San Jose’s water utility lost $9 million because of lower water sales during drought and wanted to add a 2.25 percent surcharge to recoup the loss.  The 13 water companies that provide water for the South Bay saw reduced water sales of 20 to 28 percent during the drought.

In the San Bernardino County area, local groundwater basins were at record lows after twenty years of drought, according to the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District.  Water officials urged continued water conservation, despite the recent relatively wet winter, which was slightly above average in precipitation.

Goleta Water District Lowers Drought Emergency Level, Drops Surcharge, by Tom Bolton, Noozhawk (Santa Barbara, California), April 10, 2019

Santa Barbara declares end to drought emergency, by Lindsay Zuchelli, KSBY San Luis Obispo News (California), April 9, 2019

San Jose Water charging customers for conserving water, by David Louie, KGO-TV ABC 7 San Francisco, April 9, 2019

Keep conserving, officials say, San Bernardino valley groundwater basins are ‘historically low’, by Jennifer Iyer, The Riverside Press-Enterprise (California), April 27, 2019

 

Washington wildfires, drought emergency

In early April, anxiety in Washington state was running high about the early start to the fire season and the water supply outlook for north central Washington.  Through the first three months of this year, 58 wildfires burned, causing fire officials to anticipate another hectic wildfire season. 

Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency on April 4 for the Methow, Okanogan and Upper Yakima basins because of anticipated water shortages. Water supplies in the Upper Yakima Basin were forecast at 74 percent of normal, one percentage point below the trigger of 75 percent for a drought emergency. The Methow and Okanogan basins were at 72 and 58 percent of normal, respectively.  These are prime agricultural areas, producing apples, berries, cherries and other crops that could suffer if water supplies are short. 

Firefighters hoping for best, bracing for worst this wildfire season, by Donald W. Meyers, Yakima Herald (Washington), April 2, 2019

Gov. declares drought emergency in Central Washington, by Associated Press, April 4, 2019

 

For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.