National Drought Mitigation Center


Intermountain West, Great Plains, upper Midwest see development, expansion of drought

April 2, 2015

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

During the 4-week period ending on March 31, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased to 36.84 percent—an increase of nearly five (4.96) percentage points.

March featured warmer- and drier-than-normal weather in most areas from California to the Great Plains and the upper Midwest. As a result, drought development or expansion was noted during March in a broad area covering the Intermountain West, the Great Plains, and the upper Midwest. Drought developed during the month in much of central and northern Wisconsin, with 55 percent of the state in moderate drought (D1) by March 31. Similarly, 22 percent of Nebraska was experiencing moderate drought by the end of March, up from 0 percent just 4 weeks earlier. Substantial jumps in drought coverage were also reported during March in Minnesota (from 6 to 92 percent), South Dakota (from 5 to 43 percent), Kansas (from 42 to 69 percent), and North Dakota (from 10 to 21 percent).  In Colorado, coverage of severe drought (D2) increased from 12 to 40 percent during March.

In California, where Gov. Jerry Brown on April 1 announced mandatory 25 percent reductions in water usage in cities and towns, drought covered more than 98 percent of the state by the end of March.  With drought moving into a fourth year, and extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) covering two-thirds of California, large reductions in agricultural output can be expected again in 2015.  According to USDA’s Prospective Plantings report, issued on March 31, total planting intentions for cotton, corn, oats, barley, wheat, rice, and sunflowers will total 1.72 million acres in 2015, down from 1.90 million acres in 2014 and 2.44 million acres in 2013.  The intended cotton acreage of 155,000 acres, if realized, will be down 45 percent from 2 years ago, while the planted acres for the other crops listed will be down 20 to 30 percent from 2013 levels.

According to the latest “agriculture in drought” statistics, drought coverage for domestic hay acreage increased from 20 to 28 percent in March, while the portion of the U.S. cattle inventory in drought rose from 27 to 36 percent.

The portion of the U.S. winter wheat crop in drought climbed from 33 to 42 percent during March.  During the winter and early spring months, wheat conditions have declined sharply in several states across the nation’s mid-section.  Between November 23, 2014, and March 29, 2015, the portion of the winter wheat crop rated in good to excellent condition plunged from 69 to 34 percent in Nebraska; 68 to 35 percent in South Dakota; and 61 to 39 percent in Kansas.  Depending upon location, the declines in condition have been attributed to drought, winter weather extremes, or a combination of both.

On March 31, drought covered 22 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 18 percent of the soybean area.  Those numbers are up sharply from March 3, when just 6 percent of the corn and 5 percent of the soybeans were in drought.  Despite the upper Midwestern drought development, producers are still optimistic for a favorable growing season if spring rains develop—especially since the dry conditions heading into spring should allow for rapid planting progress.

Weather outlook:  A storm system currently centered over the nation’s mid-section will remain the focus for heavy rain and locally severe thunderstorms through week’s end.  The storm will generally move northeastward, crossing the Ohio Valley on Friday and reaching coastal New England on Saturday.  Storm-total precipitation could reach 2 to 5 inches in the Ohio Valley and at least 1 to 2 inches in a broad area from the mid-South into the Northeast.  Precipitation will end as snow on April 3-4 from the lower Great Lakes region into northern New England.  Elsewhere, significant precipitation (1 to 2 inches) will be limited to the Pacific Northwest and portions of the northern and central Rockies.  Some light precipitation will overspread northern California, mainly on April 5-6.

The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, April 30, 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 at: