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Drought Eases in Plains, Northwest

Drought Eases in Plains, Northwest

California remains focal point of Western drought, U.S. Drought Monitor reports

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor still reflects a continuing struggle for California and much of the West when it comes to dryness and drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday.

California, now bearing a clear presence of exceptional drought (the worst drought ranking, according to the Drought Monitor) and extreme drought (the second-worst), is seeing resurgent warmth and dryness, mitigating precipitation received in early February.

California remains focal point of Western drought, U.S. Drought Monitor reports

By February 26, says this week's Drought Monitor author and USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, the California Department of Water Resources says the Sierra Nevada snowpack contained an average of 5 inches of liquid, just 22% of the late-February normal. Prior to the early-February storminess, the water equivalency of the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 3 inches, about one-sixth of the end-of-January normal.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, California completed its 12th driest year from July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012, and its 11th driest year from July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013.

In 2014, California is on track to again complete one of its driest years on record, and heat has certainly not helped California's drought situation, Rippey says.

"California's drought impacts continue to mount, with one of the most recent blows to agriculture being that the Central Valley Project plans to deliver no water to many growers in 2014," Rippey explains. "The most senior rights holders are pegged to receive 40% of their normal water. Those allocations could change if reservoir storage were to improve. Some growers could make up the loss by pumping groundwater or buying water from senior rights holders."

Meanwhile, Pacific storms led to reductions in coverage of dryness and drought from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. Rippey reports that no drought remained along the eastern slopes of the Rockies from Montana to northeastern Colorado.

Significant long- and short-term drought persisted or intensified in the Great Basin and the Southwest this week. Arizona's rangeland and pastures were rated 60% very poor to poor on February 23, up from 24% at the beginning of 2014. Statewide reservoir storage was barely one-quarter of normal for this time of year in Nevada and just over half of normal in New Mexico.


Plains and Midwest
Dry weather dominated the central and southern Great Plains, although warmth yielded to colder conditions. There were broad expansions of various categories of dryness and drought in southeastern Kansas and parts of Oklahoma and Texas, Rippey explains.

In Texas, the portion of the winter wheat crop rated in very poor to poor condition climbed to 47% on February 23, up from 28% in late November 2013. Additionally, 52% of Texas' rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor on February 23, up from 30% just 3 months ago.

Spring planting is underway across southern Texas, and moisture will be needed soon as fieldwork moves northward, Rippey estimates. By February 23, statewide topsoil moisture was rated 75% very short to short in Texas.

Roughly the southern half of the Great Plains region is facing a potential fourth consecutive summer of drought—a stretch that began with the historic drought of 2011. Texas cotton abandonment, which until recently only exceeded 40% only once (in 1998), has topped 40% in three consecutive years (2011, 2012, and 2013), Rippey says.

Short-term dryness also rapidly expanded across the southern half of the Mississippi Valley. Year-to-date precipitation deficits have begun to mount from northern Louisiana to southern Missouri.

Farther north, a strong storm crossed the upper Midwest on February 20-21, delivering wind-driven snow. The latest storm, on top of several earlier systems, further boosted the upper Midwestern snowpack.

"Nearly every flake of snow that has fallen across the far upper Midwest this winter remains on the ground," Rippey says. "Although there are some uncertainties regarding how much of the moisture will run off and how much will soak in, the latest storm resulted in further reductions in the coverage of dryness and lingering drought .

Meanwhile, the storm responsible for the snow also contributed to heavy rain, severe thunderstorms, and melting snow in other parts of the Midwest. Enough rain fell to result in some reductions in coverage of dryness and drought in Illinois and neighboring areas.

Drought Eases in Plains, Northwest

Source: Brad Rippey, U.S. Drought Monitor

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