Drought Expands Across HRW Belt, Some Improvement in Pacific Northwest

March 24, 2016 08:21 AM

According to the updated National Drought Monitor, storms continued to chip away at drought across northern California and the Pacific Northwest, while short-term dryness led to further moderate (D1) drought expansion in the southwestern and south-central United States, including areas of the Central and Southern Plains. Some form of drought covers 35% of the contiguous U.S., compared to 33.5% last week.

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A significant jump in drought was experienced across Kansas, with 57% of the state now covered by abnormally dry (D0) or moderate drought (D1), compared to 28% the previous week. "Unless significant precipitation occurs soon, a much broader area of the Central and Southern Plains, extending eastward into the middle Mississippi Valley, may be ripe for expansion of dryness and drought during the next few weeks," states the monitor. "Many of these areas received extremely heavy precipitation as recently as late December, and the landscape still retains a memory of this rain in the form of subsoil moisture and streamflow that has only recently begun to diminish."

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Commenting on the weekend freeze event, the monitor notes, "Complicating matters for winter wheat is that a significant freeze struck portions of the central and southern High Plains on March 20, with low temperatures ranging from 5 to 20°F in some of the coldest locations in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma and northern Texas. Ultimately, it may be difficult to determine whether damage, if any, to the winter wheat crop was caused by freeze injury or by drought. The freeze was immediately followed by a warm, windy spell; Garden City, Kansas, reported a high of 88°F on March 22, just 2 days after a daily-record low of 10°F."

In its outlook for March 24 to 28, the monitor states an active weather pattern will cover many parts of the nation. "A spring storm will cross the Midwest on Thursday and northern New England on Friday. Heavy snow will end early March 24 across the upper Midwest but continue across parts of Wisconsin and Lower Michigan. Meanwhile, locally severe thunderstorms can be expected across the South through March 24, possibly as far north as the Ohio Valley. During the weekend, a new storm system will emerge from the Rockies and begin to develop across the nation’s mid-section, trailed by a surge of cold air. The track of the second storm is expected to be farther south than the earlier system, possibly resulting in beneficial precipitation across the south-central U.S. In contrast, dry weather will prevail through March 28 in southern California and the Desert Southwest."