National Drought Mitigation Center


Drought eases across Plains but hydrologic impacts linger in Texas

October 24, 2013

Rain whittled away at the remnants of long-term drought in the Plains in the week that ended Oct. 22, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map. The only areas that got worse were in Texas, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Long Island.

The proportion of the contiguous 48 states in moderate drought or worse fell to 35 percent from 36.71 percent a week earlier, down from a late-summer (Sept. 10) peak of 50.69 percent, noted Brad Rippey, meteorologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist. Thirty-five percent represents the smallest U.S. drought area since May 15, 2012.

Although central and eastern Texas had widespread rains, leading to a slight contraction of the area in moderate drought, a new area of severe drought appeared in Texas, reflecting the historic lows of the reservoir system associated with the Colorado River. “There has been very little, if any, impact from recent rains with regard to runoff into the reservoirs,” said Brian Fuchs, this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author, in narrative accompanying the map. “This can be attributed to the three-plus years of drought in the state.” Despite the reduction in moderate drought, Texas saw small increases in the other categories of drought, including a kidney bean-shaped area of exceptional drought on the Texas-Oklahoma border.  Oklahoma improved in the southeast but had areas of intensification in the west.

The only other parts of the country where drought expanded were on Long Island, New York, where abnormally dry conditions were downgraded to show moderate drought, and in Hawaii.

“For the three-week period ending October 22, all crops and commodities in drought were down sharply,” Rippey said. “Only 38 percent of the U.S. corn production area was in drought on the 22nd, down from 54 percent on Oct. 1 and a late-summer peak of 55 percent. Similarly, 29 percent of the soybean production area was in drought, down from 43 percent three weeks ago and a late-summer high of 45 percent.  On Oct. 22, only 26 percent of the hay, 34 percent of the winter wheat, and 40 percent of the cattle were in drought. Those numbers were down from late-summer peaks of 41, 45, and 55 percent, respectively.”

Conditions for harvesting summer crops and for planting winter wheat are favorable. “With the return of dry weather in recent days, harvest of U.S. summer crops has accelerated,” Rippey said. “The corn harvest was 39 percent complete by October 20, while the soybean harvest was 63 percent complete. Due to the fact that much of the lingering drought across the nation’s winter wheat production areas is a long-term feature with only subsoil moisture deficits, the newly planted crop is performing well. As a result, USDA rated nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the U.S. winter wheat in good to excellent condition on Oct. 20.  Since 1995, only four years—1996, 1997, 2004, and 2008—started off the winter wheat growing season with higher condition ratings.”

States showing improvement included Minnesota, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Other states with significant areas in drought that remained unchanged were in the Midwest, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri; in the South, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana; and in the West, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and California. Alaska and Hawaii are both still showing drought, too. 

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 USDA, and about 350 drought observers across the country. Fuchs is with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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:                                                              

U.S. Ag in Drought, current:

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

U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook:

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook:

-- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center