National Drought Mitigation Center


Drought intensifies in the West, raising concerns about fire and range conditions

June 20, 2013

Extreme drought expanded this week to cover the Four Corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, where high temperatures have escalated concerns about fire and range conditions, said Mark Svoboda, this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author.

“This region is quickly becoming home to the new epicenter of the 2013 drought,” Svoboda said, adding that 90 percent of New Mexico is now in extreme drought or worse. “Little change is expected in this severity level across the state until we see what benefits the monsoon season may bring them later this month or early in July.”

For the 48 contiguous states, the week that ended June 18 saw moderate drought expand slightly to cover 44.77 percent of the area, an increase from 44.13 percent the week before. The area in exceptional drought, the worst category, declined to 4.38 percent from 4.69 percent. In comparison, widespread drought centered over the High Plains in 2012 peaked at 65.45 percent on Sept. 25.

Extreme drought also expanded in northern Nevada, severe drought expanded in southwest Idaho and in Oregon, and moderate drought turned severe in northern California.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist, noted, “Hot, breezy weather in combination with drought contributed to a rash of wildfires in the central and southern Rockies and adjacent High Plains. In El Paso County, Colorado, the destructive Black Forest fire—which destroyed more than 500 homes and charred more than 14,000 acres of timber and grassland—ignited on June 11, along with several other blazes in Colorado and New Mexico.  North of Jemez Springs, New Mexico, the Thompson Ridge fire burned nearly 24,000 acres of vegetation.  A few days later, however, showers aided wildfire containment efforts and provided local drought relief across the central and southern High Plains and adjacent Rockies. Indeed, the drought-affected area has become a Western feature, excluding the northern tier of the region.”

In California, “Extremely low streamflow levels and record or near-record dryness for the year have elevated short- and long-term concerns with regard to soil moisture, fire potential and distressed native ecosystems that don’t get irrigation,” Svoboda said. “Statewide water supply conditions are in pretty good shape for most of California, which should provide a sufficient buffer for irrigators and municipalities this year, but as those supplies are drawn down, there will be little to fill in behind because of the disappointing winter and woeful year-to-date precipitation. The exception to this is the San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation allocations to farmers will be cut significantly.”

Citing USDA analysis, Rippey said that nearly half (46 percent) of the domestic cattle inventory was in drought on June 18, up one percentage point from a week ago. Winter wheat in drought climbed three percentage points to 50 percent. Hay in drought increased one percentage point in the last week to 33 percent; corn in drought fell a point to 19 percent; and soybeans in drought fell a point to just 9 percent.

U.S. Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas of the country that are abnormally dry (D0), in moderate drought (D1), in severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3) and exceptional drought (D4). The map is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday morning.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 350 drought observers across the country. Svoboda is with the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Statistics for the percent area in each category of drought are automatically added to the U.S. Drought Monitor website each week for the entire country and Puerto Rico, for the 48 contiguous states, for each climate region, and for individual states. U.S. Drought Monitor data online goes back to January 2000.

U.S. Drought Monitor map, statistics and narrative summary:

Drought Impact Reporter:

USDA’s weekly “Agriculture in Drought” analysis:

National Climatic Data Center’s State of the Climate Drought Summary:

Seasonal Drought Outlook:

-- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center