Drought Monitor Weekly: Heavy Rains Bring Broad Improvement

    Rain gauge near field. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography


    Two fast-moving storms impacted the Lower 48 last week. Heavy rain fell across parts of the Midwest and South, leading to broad areas of drought improvement in these regions. Parts of the West saw much-needed rainfall.

    In most cases, these amounts were not enough to bring relief to the region’s relentless long-term drought conditions. Pockets of dryness also continued across the northern High Plains, South, and Southeast leading to drought expansion.


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    The southeast saw a mix of improvements and worsening short-term drought conditions. Rainfall totals from 1.5 to more than 3 inches brought relief to moderate drought in parts of coastal South Carolina and abnormally dry areas in North Carolina, Alabama and near the Georgia-Florida border.

    Precipitation indicators and stream flow measurements show improvements in these areas. Moderate drought expanded across a large swath of southern Georgia, an area that has continued to miss out on surplus rainfall. Pockets of abnormal dryness and/or drought expanded in consistently dry areas of North and South Carolina and southwest Alabama.

    Indicators supporting drought expansion in the southeast include 60-to-90-day precipitation deficits, declining soil moisture and below-normal stream flow.


    This week the South saw drought worsen across west and south Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Above-normal temperatures combined with below-normal precipitation and high winds exacerbated conditions. Drought indicators supporting the degradations include increasing precipitation deficits, dry surface and root zone soil moisture and low stream flow.

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    State drought teams noted reports of blowing dust and crop failures in the area. Drought also expanded across southern Louisiana. This area has been in severe drought (D2) since March without any relief in weeks.

    One-category improvements were made to drought conditions across east Texas, southern Arkansas, north and central Louisiana and Mississippi in areas where the heaviest rain (3 inches or more) fell and where warranted by short-term precipitation indicators, streamflow, soil moisture and other measures.


    Above-normal precipitation combined with below temperatures led to improvements across much of the Midwest this week. Until recently, the region hadn’t had enough precipitation to warrant improvements to deficits that had been building since spring last year. Now, virtually all short-term drought has been eliminated.

    This is denoted by the removal of the S designation on the map. Long-term drought remains where precipitation deficits of 6 months or longer exist and where deeper soil moisture and groundwater indicators have yet to recover.

    High Plains

    Much of the High Plains remained dry last week resulting in deteriorating drought conditions across parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska. The eastern edges of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) crept eastward. Severe drought (D2) expanded over a large swath from southwest North Dakota to central Nebraska. Extreme drought spread in central Nebraska.

    Short-term dryness is superimposed over long-term moisture deficits across the region. The lack of seasonal snow cover combined with the onset of spring has people in the region worried. Soil moisture is very low, stream flows continue to decline and state reports indicate that stock ponds are drying up.


    Parts of the West saw much needed precipitation with rain over the West Coast and higher elevation snow over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In most cases, these amounts were not enough to bring relief to drought conditions that have plagued the region for months. Only western Oregon saw minor improvements to abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in response to recent precipitation.

    Across much of the West, higher than normal temperatures last week caused premature snow melt, with snowpack values plummeting over just a few days. The California Department of Water Resources noted that about one-third of the water equivalency disappeared in a week.

    Extreme drought (D3) expanded in northern California, parts of Utah, and New Mexico. In these locations, the warm weather has led to increased evaporative demand and stress on vegetation. The rest of the West remained unchanged this week.


    Long-term drought has been slow to improve in the Northeast despite recent rains and cool weather. Abnormal dryness (D0) improved across parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, where above-normal precipitation helped improve moisture deficits. Stream flows are near- to above-normal and soil moisture indicators show improvement.

    Other areas of improvement include parts of the Delmarva Peninsula where recent rains eliminated short-term abnormal dryness (D0). Abnormal dryness expanded over parts of West Virginia and western Maryland where precipitation deficits, stream flow measurements and soil moisture conditions have fallen below normal.

    Looking Ahead

    The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast (valid March 31 – April 7) calls for heavy rain and storms ahead of an advancing cold front extending from south of Lake Michigan to East Texas. Storms will progress eastward through the remainder of the week. The Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and New England can expect snow/freezing rain.

    Heavy rain and mountain snow are expected from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies. Moving into next week, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (Valid April 7 – 13) favors above normal temperature for a large part of the West, extending from California across the Great Basin and into the southern Rockies.

    Meanwhile, near to above normal temperatures are favored for the Northeast and Eastern Seaboard. Below normal temperatures are expected over the eastern central CONUS. The outlook favors above normal precipitation across much of the northern tier of the Lower 48 and Alaska. Near to below normal precipitation is favored over southern areas of the West and the Southern and Central Plains.

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