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Drought and Climate for December 2019: Drought recedes in southeastern U.S.

by Curtis Riganti

Drought


During December, drought coverage was reduced in the Southeast, and moderate drought was added in Washington and Oregon. Extreme drought was removed from southwest Kansas but slightly expanded in parts of central Texas. At the end of the month, extreme drought coverage had decreased from 0.09 to 0.06 percent, severe drought coverage had dropped from 3.85 to 3.21 percent, and moderate drought coverage had dropped from 9.91 to 9.53 percent.

Drought Outlook


During January, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts that the ongoing drought areas in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho will persist. A small part of the Four Corners drought in Utah and Arizona is forecast to be removed, while persistence is forecast elsewhere. In the immediate vicinity of the Four Corners, drought improvement is forecast. Drought removal is forecast in south-central Kansas and parts of southwest Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle while the drought immediately along the Red River portion of the Oklahoma/Texas border is forecast to persist. Drought persistence is forecast for most of the central/northeast Texas drought, except for a few small areas of drought removal or drought development nearby. Drought removal is forecast in eastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle, and drought persistence is forecast in south Florida. Drought persistence is forecast in the Alaska Panhandle and eastern Puerto Rico, and drought removal is forecast in much of Hawaii. During January, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts that the ongoing drought areas in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho will persist. A small part of the Four Corners drought in Utah and Arizona is forecast to be removed, while persistence is forecast elsewhere. In the immediate vicinity of the Four Corners, drought improvement is forecast. Drought removal is forecast in south-central Kansas and parts of southwest Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle while the drought immediately along the Red River portion of the Oklahoma/Texas border is forecast to persist. Drought persistence is forecast for most of the central/northeast Texas drought, except for a few small areas of drought removal or drought development nearby. Drought removal is forecast in eastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle, and drought persistence is forecast in south Florida. Drought persistence is forecast in the Alaska Panhandle and eastern Puerto Rico, and drought removal is forecast in much of Hawaii.  

Temperatures


Warmer than normal temperatures were common across most of the continental United States, including most of the central and southeastern regions. Above-normal temperatures were particularly common in December in Iowa, southern Wisconsin, and northern Illinois. Warmer than normal temperatures also occurred in Montana, far northern Wyoming, and eastern Washington. Cooler than normal temperatures occurred in a few of the mountainous regions of Colorado and Wyoming, but were generally hard to find elsewhere. For more details, please refer to the regional sections below. 

Precipitation


Precipitation amounts varied widely across the Lower 48 during December. Well below normal precipitation occurred in Arkansas, southeast Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and Louisiana, and large portions of this area received less than half of their normal December precipitation. Parts of the Northwest also received below-normal precipitation for December. Parts of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest received well above normal precipitation for December. Amounts doubling normal December precipitation were common from central Nebraska to the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota and Wisconsin. Above-normal precipitation also fell in parts of the Southeast and parts of California.

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

With the exception of northern New England, primarily higher than normal amounts of precipitation took place in the Northeast during December. The wettest areas, compared to normal, were in southern New England and southern New York and New Jersey. West Virginia had much warmer than normal temperatures in December, with temperature readings from 4 to 8 degrees above normal common during the month. Warmer than normal temperatures extended into Maryland and western parts of Pennsylvania and New York, though temperatures were not as warm in these areas. The Northeast remained drought-free at the end of December.

Southeast

With the exception of parts of central Virginia and northeast North Carolina, most of the Southeast received near- or above-normal precipitation during December. The wettest areas, compared to normal, were central South Carolina, east-central and southeast Georgia, and the east coast of Florida. Nearly the whole region experienced warmer than normal weather in December, with most locations having temperatures for the month from 2 to 6 degrees above normal. Scattered locations saw temperatures spike to 8 degrees warmer than normal for the month. By the end of December, moderate drought was confined to the central Florida Panhandle and south Florida, as moderate and severe drought had been eliminated from surrounding states. Severe drought had covered 0.34 percent of the region at the beginning of December, and moderate drought dropped from 9.88 to 1.69 percent of the Southeast over the course of December.

South

Well below normal precipitation took place in southeast Oklahoma, Arkansas, eastern Texas, and southwest Louisiana during December. Above-normal precipitation fell in the Permian Basin region of Texas, and in the northern Texas Panhandle and parts of the Oklahoma Panhandle. Much of the South was also warmer than normal in December. Temperatures from 6 to 8 degrees above normal were common in Tennessee during the month, and temperatures from 2 to 8 degrees warmer than normal were common across the rest of the South. Extreme drought coverage increased slightly in Texas, bringing the regional extreme drought coverage up to 0.37 from 0.34 percent. Severe drought coverage also grew slightly, increasing from 4.74 percent to 5.16 percent. Moderate drought coverage increased from 19.09 to 20.62 percent.

Midwest

The northern tier of the region, in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and Michigan, received well above normal precipitation during December. A few scattered locations in central and northern Illinois received below-normal precipitation during December, but otherwise, the rest of the region received near- or above-normal precipitation amounts. Well above normal precipitation also occurred in central Kentucky. Warmer than normal temperatures occurred in nearly the entire region. Compared to normal, the warmest areas were Missouri, most of Iowa, northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kentucky, where temperatures from 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal were common. Temperatures from normal to 4 degrees above normal were more common from Minnesota and northern Wisconsin and northern Lower Michigan northward to the Canadian border. The Midwest remained free of drought during December.

High Plains

Much above normal precipitation fell across large portions of Nebraska and South Dakota, as well as the southeastern two-thirds of North Dakota. The northwestern two-thirds of Kansas also generally received above-normal precipitation during December. Other parts of the western High Plains received more variable precipitation amounts compared to normal for December. Most of the region was warmer than normal for December, with the exception of eastern North Dakota. In most areas, temperatures from 3 to 9 degrees warmer than normal were widespread. A small area of extreme drought was removed from southwest Kansas, bringing the total extreme drought coverage in the High Plains from 0.26 percent to zero. Severe drought coverage dropped from 7.08 to 4.79 percent, and moderate drought coverage dropped from 14.37 to 12.06 percent.

West

Most of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona received near-normal or above-normal precipitation for December. Meanwhile, northwest Wyoming, southwest Montana, adjacent parts of Idaho, and northern Oregon and southern Washington were quite dry in December. Temperatures in southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and western New Mexico were generally near normal in December. Much of Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington, northern Wyoming, eastern New Mexico, northern California, and northern Nevada saw warmer than normal temperatures. Southwest Wyoming, some of the mountainous areas of central Colorado, and south-central and far northeast Utah were cooler than normal. Severe drought coverage decreased slightly, from 9.08 to 7.12 percent, and moderate drought coverage increased from 17.44 to 18.17 percent.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

No change in drought coverage occurred during December in Alaska, where moderate drought remained in part of southeast Alaska. Moderate drought coverage was reduced in southeast Puerto Rico during December, lowering the coverage percentage from 15.54 to 10.86 percent. In Hawaii during December, extreme drought coverage slightly increased from 0.83 to 0.99 percent, severe drought coverage slightly decreased from 7.41 to 6.66 percent, and moderate drought coverage slightly increased from 16.35 to 17.58 percent.

Movers and Shakers for December 2019
StatePercent Area
Nov. 26, 2019
Percent Area
Dec. 31, 2019
StatusChange
Biggest increase in drought
Hawaii16.4417.58Moderate1.14
Louisiana2.025.78Moderate3.76
Mississippi0.220.27Moderate0.05
Texas32.3736.12Moderate3.75
Texas0.530.74Extreme0.21
Biggest decrease in drought
Arizona70.8623.00Moderate47.86
Arizona38.5216.73Severe21.79
Colorado61.8551.19Moderate10.66
Colorado32.2920.11Severe12.18
Florida15.578.59Moderate6.98
Hawaii9.356.66Severe2.69
Hawaii1.040.99Extreme0.05
Kansas16.809.89Moderate6.91
Kansas5.534.22Severe1.31
New Mexico45.0728.33Moderate16.74
New Mexico17.5715.26Severe2.31
Oklahoma12.5810.47Moderate2.11
Oklahoma3.673.64Severe0.03
Texas9.989.19Severe0.79
Utah64.4755.72Moderate8.75
Utah42.5930.47Severe12.12

December 2019 impact summary: Drought continued for Texas, Four Corners; Developing in Pacific Northwest

by Denise Gutzmer

December brought drier conditions to the Pacific Northwest and eastern Texas, where drought expanded and intensified.  Drought eased in the Southwest with winter storms bringing needed precipitation to deepen snowpack.  Parts of the Southeast also benefitted from rains that nearly eradicated drought from the region. 

During the final month of 2019, the NDMC added 33 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, with nearly half of those documenting agricultural concerns in Texas.  Washington, California and Georgia followed with three, two and two impacts apiece, describing lingering issues such as tree deaths and water supplies.  Ten states had a single impact listed. 

 

Texas cotton crop, agricultural concerns

Cotton growers in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains saw the effect of a hot, dry summer on the cotton crop.  A wet spring delayed cotton, and a hot, droughty summer followed that stressed dryland and even irrigated cotton, as reported by Texas A&M AgriLife Today.  Blooms and bolls dropped from the stressed plants, reducing yields and adversely affecting quality, causing the fibers to become coarser than buyers prefer.

Average yields in the Panhandle ranged from 500 to 1,800 pounds per acre. In the South Plains, yields were down 20 to 30 percent in some fields, as little precipitation fell after crop establishment. Yields in irrigated fields were 1.5 to 2 bales per acre, while dryland fields produced one-quarter to one-half of a bale per acre.

In December, winter wheat and pastures in drier parts of the Lone Star State struggled to grow for lack of moisture. Dryland small grains in many parts of Texas were struggling and needed moisture, according to High Plains Journal in Dodge City, Kansas.  Livestock producers continued to give supplemental feed to their herds, and in the South, hay prices were rising.  Some producers culled cattle or hauled water as stock ponds were low, per Texas A&M AgriLife Today

While there were many impacts for Texas, relative to other states, that does not necessarily mean that drought was much worse for the Lone Star State than elsewhere.  Texas, being a populous state, has many news outlets and a weekly agricultural impact report from Texas A&M AgriLife Today that allows for better documentation of agricultural impacts, which increased impact counts for the state.

 

Washington State tree deaths, hunting affected

Dry conditions took a toll on trees in western Washington.  Many western red cedars and western hemlocks died in the last two years, likely due to drought conditions or dryness in combination with fungal or insect attacks, as reported in Skagit Valley Herald.   A project assessing tree and shrub species in the 2,800-acre Fidalgo Forest revealed that summer drought conditions affected the health of trees. Cedars and hemlocks displayed an observable and quantifiable increase in drought-caused stress and mortality, according to a University of Washington forest scientist.

In southwest Washington, the lack of rain has left the Shillapoo and Vancouver Lake state wildlife areas dry, with no ducks to be found, to the consternation of duck hunters.  The Columbia River was too low to pump much water into the wetlands, according to The Vancouver Columbian.

At the end of December, snowpack in Washington was 47 percent of normal, similar to the start of 2015, a year of intense drought for the Evergreen State, per Capital Press.  The concern was that 2020 could be another year of short water supplies in the Yakima Basin. 

 

Georgia water supplies recovering

As Georgia continued to emerge from flash drought, water supplies were recovering, allowing the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to lift the Level 1 Drought Response for 103 counties issued in mid-October.  Soil moisture and stream flows improved in extreme north, central and southeast parts of the state where heavy rain fell, according to the state climatologist, Bill Murphy, as reported by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division

 

Wildlife populations affected by drought

Wildlife populations tend to take a while to recover from drought events, as evidenced by bird harvests in northern Montana.  In early December, fewer upland birds were brought to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Havre check station for the 2019 hunting season as lingering impacts from the 2017 drought continued to be felt, according to the Helena Independent Record. For the eight weekends the check station was open from Oct. 12 through Dec. 1, the pheasant harvest of 501 birds was above 2018 at 18 percent, but 37 percent lower than the long-term average. The sharp-tailed grouse harvest of 63 birds was above the 2018 total, but about half of the long-term average. The Hungarian partridge harvest of 19 birds was equivalent to the 2018 total, but was well below the long-term average.

Scott Hemmer, a biologist in the Havre area and manager of the station, stated, “The continued lower upland bird numbers is likely due to the impact of drought conditions in the summer of 2017 along with the hard winter of 2017-18. However, pheasant production seemed better this year with 81% of the harvest consisting of juvenile birds.”

 

Colorado River Basin cutbacks

Starting in January 2020, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico were to take less water from the Colorado River as determined in the Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, per AZCentral.com.  Lake Mead was in the “Tier Zero” zone, triggering the first water cuts.  Arizona will take 192,000 acre-feet less in water deliveries, or a 6.9 percent cut in its total allotment.  Nevada will get 8,000 acre-feet less, and Mexico will leave 41,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead.

 

For more information, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.