National Drought Mitigation Center


USDA: Cattle, winter wheat affected by March drought expansion in S. Plains

April 8, 2016

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

During the five-week period ending on April 5, 2016, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased to 16.71 percent—up 2.41 percentage points.  Since reaching a five-and-a-half-year minimum of 12.41 percent on March 15, drought coverage has increased 4.30 percentage points.  Most of the increase has been driven by the development of short-term drought across the central and southern Plains and the Southwest, while further erosion of drought has occurred in northern California and the Northwest.

March was a month of precipitation extremes, ranging from very dry conditions in the nation’s southwestern quadrant to severe flooding from easternmost Texas into the lower Mississippi Valley.  According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, state precipitation rankings ranged from the driest March on record in New Mexico to the second-wettest March in Louisiana and Wisconsin.  New Mexico’s monthly precipitation averaged 0.06 inch (8 percent of normal), tying a March 1956 standard.  Five other states (Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) experienced a top-ten ranking for March dryness.  In contrast, Louisiana’s monthly precipitation averaged 10.40 inches, second only to 10.79 inches in March 1926.  Wisconsin’s average of 3.83 inches trailed only 4.02 inches in March 1977.  March totals were also among the ten highest values on record in Arkansas, Mississippi, Washington, and Michigan.

On April 5, more than one-third (36 percent) of the western U.S. remained in drought, down from 57 percent in early October 2015.  Most (91 percent) of California was still in drought on April 5, down 6 percentage points from the beginning of the water year on October 1, 2015.  However, California’s coverage of exceptional drought (D4) has fallen from 46 to 32 percent since October 1.  Farther north, drought in Washington and Idaho has been eradicated since the beginning of the water year—down from coverage of 100 and 86 percent, respectively.

On April 5, drought was affecting 17 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory, up from 8 percent on March 8 but down from an autumn 2015 peak of 27 percent.

On April 5, the portion of the U.S. winter wheat production area in drought stood at 20 percent, up sharply from a late-winter minimum of 3 percent on March 8.  Nationally, more than half (59 percent) of the winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition on April 3, while just 7 percent of the crop was rated very poor to poor.  However, more than one-tenth of the winter wheat was rated very poor to poor in Colorado (16 percent) and Texas (11 percent).  Across the southwestern Plains, recent weather conditions have included drought, freezes, wildfires, and blowing dust—all of which have contributed to an increase in stress on the winter wheat crop.

On April 5, the Midwest remained free of drought, continuing a 14-week trend that began on Jan. 5, 2016.  However, abnormal dryness has expanded in recent weeks across parts of Missouri, western Minnesota, and west-central Illinois.  Due to developing drought across portions of the Plains, 4 percent of the U.S. corn production area was in drought on April 5.  At the same time, 2 percent of the U.S. soybean area was in drought.

Weather outlook:   For today and early Friday, rainfall could reach 1 to 4 inches in the Northeast, while northern New England may experience some flooding.  Another blast of cold air and snow showers will follow, leading to another round of freezes during the weekend in the Midwest and in the eastern U.S. as far south as the Mid-Atlantic States.  In contrast, record-setting warmth will spread from the Northwest to the northern High Plains, persisting into the weekend.  Meanwhile, the threat of wildfires will persist across parts of the central and southern Plains, although improving conditions (and possibly some rain) will arrive early next week.  Elsewhere, increasingly showery weather can be expected in the nation’s southwestern quadrant, with isolated 1- to 3-inch totals possible during the next five days in southern California. 

PLEASE NOTE:  The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, May 5, 2016, unless conditions warrant an earlier release.  The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will be produced on a weekly basis, and is online:

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