National Drought Mitigation Center


Drought at smallest extent in three years, but entrenched over parts of West and southern Plains

January 8, 2015

By Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist

During the five-week period ending Jan.  6, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage decreased to 28.10 percent — a 1.03 percentage point drop. The current drought coverage is the nation’s lowest in more than three years, since Dec. 20, 2011.

During December, heavy precipitation across the southern and eastern United States brought significant reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate to severe drought (D1 and D2). Improvement was especially dramatic during the three-week period from Dec. 16, 2014 to Jan. 6, with drought coverage dropping from 32 to 10 percent in Louisiana; 29 to 5 percent in Mississippi; and 35 to 3 percent in Alabama. During the five-week period ending on Jan. 6, 2015, coverage of abnormal dryness fell from 93 to 0 percent in Connecticut and from 99 to 0 percent in Rhode Island.

Drought still covers a substantial portion of the southern Plains and the western U.S. On Jan. 6, the highest level of drought—D4, or exceptional drought—was noted in portions of California (32 percent), Nevada (12 percent), Oklahoma (6 percent), and Texas (2 percent). California also led the nation with 78 percent coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4). However, California’s drought depiction represented an improvement from five weeks ago, when 55 percent of the state was categorized as being in exceptional drought (D4). During the first three weeks of December, multiple storms crossing California boosted soil moisture and helped to revive rangeland and pastures. However, ongoing drought concerns in California (and neighboring states) include groundwater shortages, low reservoir levels, and a subpar high-elevation snowpack.

According to the latest “agriculture in drought” statistics, based on the Jan. 6 U.S. Drought Monitor, 18 percent of the domestic hay acreage and 26 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in a drought-affected area.

On Jan. 6, more than one-third (37 percent) of the nation’s winter wheat production area—mainly across the southern Plains and the interior Northwest—was located within a drought-affected region. According to USDA, winter wheat conditions declined in several states during December, in part due to drought and possibly due to the adverse effects of November and December weather extremes. In Kansas, 49 percent of the winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition at the end of December, down from 61 percent on Nov. 23.

The Midwest remains nearly drought-free, although a large area of abnormal dryness (D0) has developed across the upper Midwest—stretching from the Dakotas into Minnesota. On Jan. 6, drought covered just 5 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 3 percent of the soybean area.

Weather outlook: Surges of frigid air will continue to arrive across the central and eastern U.S., although temperatures will moderate slightly by early next week. Snow showers and squalls will be a companion to the cold weather downwind of the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, moisture will surge northeast from the Rio Grande Valley, starting during the weekend. This push of moisture across cold air could lead to freezing rain spreading northeast from Texas. Elsewhere, mild weather will persist in the West, although rain and snow showers can be expected—especially in the Intermountain region—early next week.

PLEASE NOTE: The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, unless conditions warrant an earlier release. The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will still be produced on a weekly basis. Current files are online at the following URL:

Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files are also online:

Brad Rippey is a meteorologist in the Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, Washington, D.C.