National Drought Mitigation Center


Heavy November rains sharply reduce U.S. drought

December 3, 2015

By Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, Washington, D.C.

During the four-week period ending on Dec. 1, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage fell sharply to 20.58 percent—a decrease of 5.59 percentage points.

Since mid-October, a procession of storms has significantly reduced U.S. drought coverage from 34.78 to 20.58 percent—a drop of 14.20 percentage points. Some of the heaviest precipitation has fallen across previously drought-affected areas of the Pacific Northwest, central and southern Plains, middle Mississippi Valley, mid-South, and lower Southeast. Across the south-central and southeastern U.S., the enhanced rainfall is consistent with the atmospheric response to unusually warm water over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean (El Niño). In addition, enhanced tropical activity in the eastern North Pacific is a hallmark of warm-episode (El Niño) events; thus, it is worth noting that the remnants of Pacific Hurricane Sandra contributed abundant tropical moisture to a late-November storm complex over the south-central U.S.

During the four weeks ending Dec. 1, statewide drought coverage dropped significantly in several states, including Washington (from 100 to 64 percent); Idaho (82 to 67 percent); Arizona (45 to 30 percent); and Kansas (15 to 5 percent). Drought was completely eradicated in Missouri (from 35 to 0 percent), along with Illinois and Arkansas—both of which had been 22 percent covered by drought on Nov. 3. During November, drought was also eliminated from many other states, including Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi and Texas.

The bulk of the recent (and ongoing) Northwestern precipitation has fallen from the Pacific Coast to the Cascades, resulting in the aforementioned removal of drought from more than one-third of Washington State. Much less recovery has been noted in Oregon, now 96 percent in drought (down from 100 percent), and Nevada (from 95 to 94 percent). During November, California’s drought coverage remained steady at 97 percent, while coverage of exceptional drought (D4) was also unchanged at 45 percent. Historically, nearly 80 percent of California’s wet-season precipitation occurs after Dec. 1.

On Dec. 1, drought was affecting just 13 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory, down from an autumn peak of 27 percent.

On Dec. 1, the portion of the U.S. winter wheat production area in drought stood at 14 percent, down from an autumn peak of 29 percent on Oct. 20. As a result, the portion of the winter wheat crop rated by USDA/NASS in good to excellent condition improved to 55 percent on Nov. 29, up from 47 percent on Oct. 25. However, Northwestern drought has been a problem with respect to winter wheat emergence; only 79 percent of Oregon’s wheat and 87 percent of Washington’s wheat had emerged by Nov. 29. In addition, the Northwest led the nation on Nov. 29 in winter wheat rated very poor to poor: 17 percent in Washington and 15 percent in Oregon.

Weather outlook: During the next several days, dry weather will cover much of the U.S., accompanied by a warming trend. The warmest weather, relative to normal, will stretch from the northern Plains into the Northeast. Meanwhile, showers will linger for several days across southern Florida, where five-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 5 inches. By early next week, rain may begin to spread northward along the Atlantic Coast. Elsewhere, stormy weather will persist in the Northwest. Five-day totals of 4 to 12 inches or more can be expected along and near the Pacific Coast as far south as northwestern California. Drought-easing Northwestern precipitation should spread as far inland as the northern Rockies.

PLEASE NOTE: The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, January 7, 2016, unless conditions warrant an earlier release. The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will be produced on a weekly basis, and are online:

Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files: