Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
California remained the focal point of a U.S. drought that stretches from the Pacific Coast to portions of the Mississippi Valley. During the 7-day drought-monitoring period, which ended early on February 25, generally dry weather prevailed in key drought areas from California to the southern High Plains. Farther north, however, rain and snow further chipped away at dryness and drought in the Northwest. Emerging dryness became an issue from the eastern Plains (Kansas to Texas) eastward into the middle and lower Mississippi Valley, while heavy rain fell in the central Gulf Coast region. Elsewhere, the year’s first widespread severe weather outbreak—accompanied by locally heavy showers—struck the Southeast and lower Midwest on February 20-21, while wind-driven snow fell from Iowa northward into the upper Great Lakes region…
Central and Southern Plains
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. In Texas, the portion of the winter wheat crop rated in very poor to poor condition climbed to 47 percent on February 23, up from 28 percent in late-November 2013. Additionally, 52 percent of Texas’ rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor on February 23, up from 30 percent just 3 months ago. Spring planting is underway across Deep South Texas (e.g. Texas corn was 3 percent planted, statewide, by February 23), and moisture will be needed soon as fieldwork moves northward. By February 23, statewide topsoil moisture was rated 75 percent 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 percent only once (in 1998), has topped 40 percent in three consecutive years (2011, 2012, and 2013)…
Record-setting warmth accompanied dry weather from California into the Southwest, while beneficial precipitation fell from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. Benefits of California’s early-February precipitation are being overcome by resurgent warmth and dryness, leading to rapid expansion of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) into the San Joaquin Valley and the southern Sierra Nevada. By February 26, the California Department of Water Resources reported that the Sierra Nevada snowpack contained an average of 5 inches of liquid, just 22 percent 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.
From a broader perspective, 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, according to the National Climatic Data Center. During the last 120 years, the only comparable period for dryness occurred from July 1, 1975 – June 30, 1977, when California experienced its fourth- and third-driest years on record. However, that drought ended with heavy winter precipitation in 1977-78. This year, California is on track to complete one of its driest years on record; the period from July 1, 2013 – January 31, 2014, broke an all-time record for dryness. Heat has certainly not helped California’s drought situation; Needles—with a high of 90°F on February 19—reported its earliest ever 90-degree reading (previously, 90°F on February 24, 1904). Sandberg, California, has reached or exceeded the 70-degree mark on 7 days in February; the previous standard of 4 days was established in February 1963.
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. The most senior rights holders are pegged to receive 40 percent 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, significant long- and short-term drought persisted or intensified in the Great Basin and the Southwest. Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were rated 60 percent very poor to poor on February 23, up from 24 percent 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. Farther north, Pacific storms led to reductions in coverage of dryness and drought from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. In fact, no drought remained along the eastern slopes of the Rockies from Montana to northeastern Colorado…
From February 27 – March 3, precipitation will engulf much of the West. Five-day precipitation totals could reach 2 to 4 inches or more in the Sierra Nevada and 3 to 6 inches along the California coast. Totals of 1 to 3 inches will be common elsewhere in the West, except for locally higher amounts on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. Late in the period, a sprawling storm will affect the central and eastern U.S. Snow, sleet, and freezing rain can be expected across portions of the Plains, Midwest, Mid-South, and Mid-Atlantic States. Another strong surge of frigid air will trail the storm into the Plains and Midwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for March 4-8 calls for below-normal temperatures from the Plains to the East Coast, except for warmer-than-normal weather in southern Florida. Warmth can be expected west of the Rockies, excluding areas near the Canadian border. Meanwhile, above-normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and the Atlantic Coast States will contrast with drier-than-normal conditions in a broad area stretching from central and southern portions of the Rockies and Plains into the middle Mississippi Valley.