National Drought Mitigation Center


U.S. Drought Monitor: Rains ease drought across the country but worst areas still dry

February 7, 2013

Drought eased slightly in parts of the country from Hawaii to Virginia, intensified in other areas, and was nearly unchanged over the hardest-hit areas of the Plains, in the week that ended Feb. 5, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author, Mike Brewer, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, noted in narrative accompanying the map that:

  • A powerful storm Jan. 29 and 30 brought much-needed precipitation to the Southeast and to parts of the South and southern Plains.
  • Precipitation eased drought in some parts of the Midwest, particularly in areas where soils were not frozen and moisture could seep into the ground.
  • Snowpack improved in some areas but is still below normal in much of the West.
  • All Hawaiian islands have seen some improvement in drought after two weeks of good rain.

Some states saw drought ease in some areas but intensify in others. Drought eased in western Colorado but intensified in the eastern part of the state, while in Oklahoma, drought intensified in the Panhandle but eased to the east. Texas saw incremental expansions in all categories of drought. (See and select a state or region for detailed side-by-side comparisons of changes.)

Brad Rippey, meteorologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Chief Economist, observed that:

  • Overall, drought coverage decreased to 56.84 percent of the contiguous U.S., down 0.84 percent from last week and down 5.81 percent in the last 10 weeks. Last week’s decrease came on the strength of widespread precipitation across the eastern half of the U.S. and parts of the Southwest.
  • However, the portion of the contiguous U.S. in the worst category – D4, or exceptional drought – rose nearly one-half percentage point to 6.85 percent. D4 coverage has ranged from 5 to 7 percent for 26 consecutive weeks, from August 14, 2012, to February 5, 2013.
  • The proportions of hay in drought, 59 percent, and winter wheat in drought, also 59 percent, were unchanged from a week ago. Cattle in drought, 68 percent, fell one percentage point. For the 31st consecutive week, from July 10, 2012 to February 5, 2013, drought encompassed more than two-thirds of the domestic cattle inventory.

According to statistics released with the map, the area of the entire United States in moderate drought or worse on the U.S. Drought Monitor shrank to 47.86 percent in the week that ended Feb. 5 from 48.58 percent the week before; the area in severe drought or worse declined to 33.57 percent from 33.98 percent the preceding week; the area in extreme drought contracted to 15.97 percent from 16.19 percent; and the area in exceptional drought increased to 5.72 percent from 5.32 percent.

Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas of the country that are abnormally dry (D0), in moderate drought (D1), in severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3) and exceptional drought (D4).

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 350 drought observers across the country. It is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday morning.

Statistics for the percent area in each category of drought are automatically added to the U.S. Drought Monitor website each week for the entire country and Puerto Rico, for the 48 contiguous states, for each climate region, and for individual states. U.S. Drought Monitor data online goes back to January 2000.

U.S. Drought Monitor map, statistics and narrative summary:

National Climatic Data Center’s State of the Climate Drought Summary:

Seasonal Drought Outlook:

-- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center