National Drought Mitigation Center


Drought lingers in West and southern Plains but major precipitation headed for Northern California

February 5, 2015

By Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board

During the four-week period ending on Feb. 3, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased slightly to 28.44 percent—a one-third of a percentage point climb.

January featured very warm weather in the West, dramatic temperature fluctuations on the Great Plains, and cold conditions in the Northeast. California experienced not only warm weather, but also had near-record January dryness, following a wet December. California’s U.S.-leading coverage of exceptional drought (D4) rose to 40 percent by Feb. 3, up from 32 percent on Jan. 6. In contrast, January storms provided local drought relief across the southern Plains and the Southwest. Arizona’s coverage of severe to extreme drought (D2 to D3) fell to 28 percent by Feb. 3, down from 39 percent on Jan. 20.

However, 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 (40 percent, as mentioned above), Nevada (17 percent), Oklahoma (6 percent), and Texas (3 percent). California also continued to lead the nation with 77 percent coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4). One of the biggest concerns facing California is the lack of high-elevation snowpack in primary watersheds. By early February, the Sierra Nevada snowpack contained an average of just 4 inches of liquid, only about one-fifth of normal for this time of year. Concern about meager snowpack extend beyond California, stretching eastward into Arizona and the western Great Basin, and northward through the Cascades

According to the latest “agriculture in drought” statistics, based on the Feb. 3 Drought Monitor, 19 percent of the domestic hay acreage and 26 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in a drought-affected area.

On Feb. 3, more than one-third (37 percent) of the nation’s winter wheat production area—mainly across the southern Plains, mid-South, and interior Northwest—was located within a drought-affected region. According to USDA, winter wheat conditions declined in several states during January, in part due to drought and possibly due to the adverse effects of winter weather extremes. In Oklahoma, 41 percent of the winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition at the end of January, down from 54 percent a month earlier. On the same date, more than one-tenth of the winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition in several states, including Texas (16 percent very poor to poor), Colorado (14 percent), Oklahoma (13 percent), and Kansas (13 percent).

The Midwest remains mostly drought-free, although a large area of abnormal dryness (D0) has developed across the upper Midwest—stretching from the Dakotas into Minnesota. On Feb. 3, drought covered 8 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 9 percent of the soybean area. In late January and early February, a large winter storm produced heavy snow from Nebraska into the Northeast, but bypassed the driest areas of the upper Midwest. In North Dakota’s Red River Valley, less than 10 inches of snow has fallen this season in locations such as Grand Forks (9.6 inches through Feb. 4; just 30 percent of normal) and Fargo (8.3 inches; 26 percent).

Weather outlook: Dramatic change is on the way for northern California, which has been mostly dry for the last six weeks. During the next five days, a barrage of Pacific storms will result in heavy precipitation and possible flooding in the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, and northern California. However, warmth accompanying the storminess will continue to limit snowfall in key watershed areas, including the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. In northern California, where five-day totals could reach 4 to 12 inches (with isolated amounts near 18 inches), the bulk of the precipitation will fall in two major surges on Feb. 6-7 and 8-9.

Farther east, record-setting warmth will return to the nation’s mid-section, with weekend temperatures expected to top 80° Fahrenheit as far north as the central High Plains. Elsewhere, precipitation (mostly light snow) will be confined to the nation’s northern tier, except for some rain and snow showers early next week in the eastern U.S.  

The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, March 5, 2015, unless conditions warrant an earlier release. The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will still be produced on a weekly basis, and can be viewed at this link:

Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded from this link: