By Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture Meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, Washington, D.C.
During the four-week period ending Sept. 1, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased to 30.43 percent -- an increase of 3.30 percentage points. Large sections of the Plains, Midwest, and mid-South remain free of drought, but drought has returned or intensified across parts of the South -- mainly from eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma to Georgia and the Carolinas.
During the four weeks ending Sept. 1, statewide drought coverage increased from 34 to 81 percent in Louisiana; from 1 to 25 percent in Mississippi; from 5 to 25 percent in Texas, and from 18 to 34 percent in North Carolina. In South Carolina, drought coverage remained steady at 64 percent during August. Meanwhile, drought coverage increased from none to 14 percent in Arkansas and to 9 percent in Oklahoma. In contrast, slight improvement was noted during August in Georgia, from 34 to 27 percent drought coverage, and in Alabama, from 18 to 11 percent. By Aug. 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated topsoil moisture at least one-half very short to short in several Southern states, including Texas (64 percent very short to short), Virginia (61 percent), Louisiana (59 percent), North Carolina (58 percent), South Carolina (55 percent), and Mississippi (53 percent). Also on Aug. 30, Southern pastures were rated at least one-fifth very poor to poor in Louisiana (28 percent), Texas (28 percent), South Carolina (21 percent), Virginia (21 percent), Arkansas (20 percent), and Mississippi (20 percent).
There has also been a modest increase in drought coverage in portions of the northern Atlantic states. Between Aug. 4 and Sept. 1, drought coverage jumped from 0 to 17 percent in New Jersey and from 0 to 8 percent in New Hampshire. In New Jersey, USDA rated topsoil moisture 53 percent very short to short on Aug. 30.
Worsening Northwestern drought led to additional increases in the coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) between Aug. 4 and Sept. 1 in Washington (from 32 to 68 percent), Oregon (48 to 67 percent), Idaho (22 to 29 percent) and Montana (14 to 19 percent). During the same four-week period California’s D3-D4 coverage remained unchanged at 71 percent, while Nevada’s coverage fell slightly from 40 to 38 percent. The Northwestern drought situation was exacerbated by persistent heat. During August, dozens of large wildfires charred hundreds of thousands of acres of vegetation from the Pacific Coast to the northern Rockies. One of the most destructive fires, Washington’s Okanogan Complex, has burned nearly 150,000 acres and destroyed more than 300 structures, with containment reaching 50 percent by early September. For the year to date, U.S. wildfires have burned more than 8.4 million acres of vegetation (150 percent of the 10-year average for Sept. 2), approaching the modern-day annual record of nearly 9.9 million acres set in 2006. (More than half of this year’s total, almost 5.2 million acres, burned earlier in the year during a rash of Alaskan wildfires.)
By Aug. 30, Washington’s pastures were the worst in the nation, with 68 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor, followed by Oregon (64 percent), and California (60 percent). On the same date, Oregon, Washington, and California also led the U.S. in moisture shortages in topsoil (86, 80, and 73 percent very short to short, respectively) and subsoil (86, 85, and 82 percent). In large part due to the Western drought, 20 percent of the U.S. hay production area and the U.S. cattle inventory were located in drought on Sept. 1. Those numbers represented an increase from 14 and 16 percent, respectively, on Aug. 4.
On Sept. 1, drought covered a negligible portion (3 percent) of the U.S. corn and soybean production areas.
Weather outlook: Cooler air in the western U.S. will continue to spread eastward, reaching the Rockies and northern High Plains during the weekend. In contrast, much of the central and eastern U.S. will continue to experience late-summer warmth. Little or no rain will fall during the next five days in California, the Great Basin, and the southern Plains, but showers will affect most other parts of the U.S. Some of the heaviest precipitation, locally 2 to 4 inches, will fall across the nation’s northern tier from Montana to the Red River Valley. Five-day totals could reach 1 to 2 inches in portions of the Four Corners States and the lower Southeast.
PLEASE NOTE: The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, Oct. 1, 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 online:
Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded: