NOAA Drought Outlook Monthly – February

    Nearly 55% of the contiguous U.S. is experiencing drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, valid January 25, 2022. Long-term drought is entrenched across much of the western half of the lower 48 states, with drought extending into the Upper Midwest and Lower Mississippi Valley. In addition, parts of the Southeast and interior New England are experiencing moderate and/or severe drought conditions.

    Much of the West received above-normal precipitation during December, resulting in much above-normal seasonal snowpack by the end of 2021. However, January has turned out to be much drier than normal for most areas, essentially leveling off any meaningful gains in snowpack made in December, bringing most basins to near-normal seasonal snowpack, and even back to below-normal for several basins, by the start of February.

    A dry start to February is expected across much of the West, likely resulting in drought persistence for many areas, with La Niña increasing the potential for much of the southwestern CONUS to remain in drought through the end of the month, with the potential for development in parts of the Four Corners region.

    In the Great Plains, a combination of lack of snowpack (Northern High Plains), frozen ground (Northern Plains), and warmer and drier than normal conditions (Southern High Plains and Central Plains) make drought persistence the likeliest outcome by the end of February.

    United States Monthly Drought Outlook Graphic - click on image to enlarge

    Click Image to Enlarge

    Frozen ground and snow cover warrant drought persistence across the Upper Midwest, western Great Lakes, northern New England, due to an increased inability for moisture to penetrate the topsoils by the end of the month, in addition to this being a climatologically dry time of year for these regions.

    From eastern Texas to the Lower Mississippi Valley, heavy precipitation (in various forms), associated with a strong low-pressure system, is likely to drop enough precipitation across many areas for some drought improvement.

    The increased likelihood for an active storm track across the Middle Mississippi and Ohio Valleys (associated with La Niña) and the increasing potential for above-normal precipitation through the middle of February increases the potential for drought removal across the Carolinas and Virginia.

    Forecast confidence is moderate to high for Montana and high elsewhere in the Western Region.

    • In the months leading up to February, the West experienced a very wet December (record-breaking in some cases in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains) followed by a very dry January.
    • Unfortunately, the dry start to the year offset the wet December for many areas across the West, which has resulted in near-normal seasonal snowpack across the region.
    • Near to above-normal temperatures and dry conditions are favored to continue through the first half of the month for much of the West. However, the pattern is expected to become more La Niña-like by the end of February, with near to above-normal precipitation favored during the second half of the month across the Pacific Northwest eastward to Northern Plains.
    • Given the dry first half of February, meaningful improvements are likely to be limited to central and northern Montana, where below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation are favored.
    • Elsewhere across the Western Region, drought persistence is most likely, with the possibility of drought developing across parts of the Four Corners and Middle Rio Grande Valley, where above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation are likely to continue to exacerbate conditions after the very dry January.

    Forecast confidence is high for the High Plains Region.

    • Snowpack is entirely absent from parts of the Northern High Plains, extending southeastward to the Central Plains, which is rare for this time of year. The lack of seasonal snow cover has resulted in temperatures running a few degrees above average (2-4°F for many locations) across the Northern High Plains, with average January maximum temperatures of 35-40°F.
    • With average high temperatures above freezing and no snow cover, top soils remained vulnerable to evaporation due to high winds and no insulation from the lack of snow cover. This has resulted in a slow degradation of conditions just east of the Front Range in the Northern High Plains and Central Plains since the beginning of January.
    • With the lack above and below-normal precipitation and temperature signals across much of the Central Plains and east of the Front Range, drought persistence is likely. Some additional development is also likely to occur from southern South Dakota to Kansas.
    • However, farther northward and eastward across the Dakotas, where average January temperatures were below freezing, aided by increased snow cover for many areas, no additional development is likely to occur due to frozen soils, which are likely to remain frozen well into February.

    Forecast confidence is moderate to high for the Midwest Region.

    • The mature La Niña during February favors above-normal precipitation across much of the Midwest and Great Lakes and snowpack is likely to continue to accumulate across the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes.
    • However, the Upper Midwest in particular has experienced a very cold January, with average temperatures running 5-10°F below-normal (with some locations experiencing more than 10°F negative departures from normal temperatures across northern Minnesota), which has left soils frozen several feet deep.
    • Similar to the Northern Plains, it will likely take some time for soils to thaw before meaningful improvements can occur, despite the antecedent snowpack, reducing any likelihood for drought improvements during February across these areas.
    • Farther south over the central Corn Belt, although temperatures have not been as cold as the Upper Midwest, many of these areas are expected to remain drier than normal through the middle of February, with precipitation signals increasing toward the latter half of the month.
    • Given the dry start and increased confidence in the extended-range forecasts, drought persistence is likely from the Chicago metropolitan area westward to Iowa.
    • Contrary to the rest of the Midwest, heavy precipitation associated with a strong low-pressure system early in February is expected to lead to drought removal in a localized area in eastern Missouri.

    Forecast confidence is low to moderate for the Southern Region.

    • Much of the Southern Region west of the Mississippi River has experienced abnormally warm and dry conditions in the months leading up to the start of February. Texas recorded its warmest Winter month on record during December (average temperature of 59°F), beating the previous Winter month record of 58.4°, set in February 2017.
    • Despite below-normal temperatures observed on average for the month of January throughout the Southern Region, precipitation continued to lack for much of Texas, Oklahoma, and the Lower Mississippi Valley, which has exacerbated ongoing drought conditions and led to expansion of drought eastward along the central Gulf Coast.
    • Fortunately, a strong low pressure system is expected to bring very heavy precipitation in various forms to drought-stricken areas from eastern Texas to the Lower Mississippi Valley during the first week of February. Although conditions are likely to dry out thereafter, a mean frontal boundary is expected to set up across the Gulf Coast through the middle of February, leading to near to above-normal precipitation odds for many of these same areas.
    • Given the likely wet start to February, with equal chances to above-normal precipitation favored in the precipitation outlooks through then end of February, drought improvement is expected in severe to extreme (D2 to D3) areas receiving at least 1.5 inches of liquid-equivalent precipitation from eastern Texas to the Lower Mississippi Valley during the first week of the month. Drought removal is likely in areas experiencing moderate (D1) drought.
    • Elsewhere, drought persistence is likely with above-normal temperatures and no tilt in the odds toward either above or below-normal precipitation.

    Forecast confidence is low to moderate for the Southeast Region.

    • In the Southeast Region, heavy rainfall associated with a strong low-pressure system and trailing frontal boundary will likely lead to drought removal early in February for localized areas experiencing moderate (D1) drought along the central Gulf Coast and western Alabama. Some of this heavy precipitation is expected to reach portions of the Carolinas, which are also experiencing moderate drought conditions.
    • The Carolinas are likely not to experience precipitation amounts as great as those that will be observed in the Lower Mississippi Valley and along the central Gulf Coast with the passage of the storm system in the first week of February. However, the active storm track across the Middle Mississippi and Ohio Valleys that is typical during La Niña Winters, and is also expected during February, is likely to bring several opportunities for trailing frontal boundaries to clip this region, particularly inland areas across the Piedmont and southern Appalachians.
    • Over the Coastal Plain of the Southeast, there has been a positive trend toward increased odds for above-normal precipitation through the middle of the month.
    • Despite the warm signals in the monthly temperature outlook, meaningful precipitation signals are lacking beyond the week-2 period.
    • Given the increased confidence in the extended-range outlooks, drought removal is likely across the Carolinas and Virginia by the end of February.

    Forecast confidence is moderate for the Northeast Region.

    • Since the start of 2022, temperatures have averaged below freezing across much of New England.
    • Despite a build up of a decent seasonal snowpack by the end of December 2021, below-normal January precipitation was observed for most areas inland from the Atlantic Coast.
    • However, with sub-freezing temperatures and antecedent snowpack to start the period, soils are likely not to have the opportunity to absorb very much snowmelt through the first half of February.
    • As a result, long-term drought in northern New England is likely to continue through the end of February.

    Forecast confidence is high for Alaska, moderate for Hawaii, and moderate for Puerto Rico.

    • Despite a drier than normal trend along portions of the southern coast of Alaska from Fall 2021 to the end of the year, above-normal precipitation was observed during January, offsetting the short-term dryness. The wetter-than-normal January along the southern coast of Alaska, coupled with the time of year, indicates Alaska is likely to remain drought-free through the end of February.
    • In Hawaii, drought was entirely removed by the end of 2022. However, January verified drier-than-normal for parts of the eastern Hawaiian Islands, leading to abnormally dry (D0) conditions developing across Maui and Hawaii Counties.
    • Drier-than-normal conditions are forecast during the first half of February, due to increased ridging over and to the north of the islands. However, wetter conditions are favored to return by the middle of the month.
    • Despite it being a climatologically wetter time of year and La Niña Winters typically leaning toward wetter than normal conditions across Hawaii, the January precipitation deficits and the predicted dry start to February are likely to lead to short-term drought development during the first half of February. Additionally, the potential return of wet conditions will likely not be enough to offset the recent short-term dryness by the end of the month.
    • A weak area of low pressure is expected to develop on the tail end of a frontal boundary over the Atlantic and bring near to above-normal precipitation to several parts of Puerto Rico before moving westward.
    • Although conditions are expected to dry out through week-2 in February, easterly flow around the base of surface high pressure over the North Atlantic favors the easterlies to return toward the latter half of February.
    • However, given the region entering its dry season and antecedent dryness for many locations (8-12 inch precipitation deficits over the past 90 days) and widespread much below-normal stream flows, above-normal precipitation will be needed for extended periods of time to overcome moderate drought (D1) conditions. As such, drought persistence is likely for Puerto Rico.

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