Drought’s foothold in the United States has steadily slipped for nearly four months now, affecting just 32.6% of the country as of December 4. The percentage of the U.S. affected by drought has fallen 15 of the past 16 weeks and are now at the lowest levels since September 2017.
Drought has been mostly erased in the central U.S. by early December. In the Midwest, which the U.S. Drought Monitor defines as Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, drought is only present in 1.9% of the region, appearing in small portions of northern Minnesota and southwest Missouri.
The Plains, which the U.S. Drought Monitor defines as Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, are more severely affected – with 30.7% of the region currently affected. Colorado is absorbing most of the current problems, with 82.9% of the country enveloped in drought. That includes 27.1% of the state suffering from the two most severe drought categories, D3 (extreme) and D4 (exceptional). Left unchecked, severe drought will cause longer term hydrological and ecological affects.
Most of the country’s current drought is parked in the western part of the country, where 74.4% of the region is affected. More than 50 million Americans live in the portions of this region afflicted by drought.
Looking ahead, additional drought recovery is possible in the short term but is likely to bring uneven results across the U.S., notes Deborah Bathke with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
“With ample amounts of moisture available, the National Weather Service quantitative precipitation forecast calls for moderate to heavy precipitation in the form of rain, snow, and some areas of a wintry mix from parts of the Southern Plains eastward into the Southeast,” she writes in this week’s summary. “Elsewhere, another storm system is expected to move in from the Pacific early next week, bringing additional precipitation to the west coast states. In between these two storm systems, a ridge in the jet stream will deliver dry conditions to the Plains and Midwest.”
NOAA’s monthly precipitation outlook for December also hints at further recovery throughout the rest of this month. Wetter-than-normal conditions are probable throughout the West, South, Southeast, Midwest and Plains this month, although seasonally dry weather is more likely across parts of the upper Midwest.
NOAA’s three-month outlook from December to February, meantime, calls for wetter-than-normal conditions likely across the southern third of the U.S., with drier-than-normal conditions more likely throughout the Great Lakes Region.