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 HOME > Expert Assessments > Drought Information > Seasonal Drought Outlook Summary > Seasonal Drought Outlook Discussion
Discussion for the Seasonal Drought Outlook

Tools used in the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook (SDO) included the official Climate Prediction Center (CPC) temperature and precipitation outlooks for January 2015 and January-March 2015, various short- and medium-range forecasts and models such as the forecast 5-day and 7-day precipitation totals from the Weather Prediction Center (WPC), the 6-10 day and 8-14 day CPC forecasts, the NAEFS precipitation outlooks, the soil moisture tools based on the Constructed Analog on Soil Moisture (CAS), dynamical models (CFSv2, NMME, IRI, and IMME), the 384-hour total precipitation forecasts from several runs of the GFS, the four-month Palmer drought termination and amelioration probabilities, climatology, and initial conditions. As of December 4, there is an approximately 65 percent chance of El Niño conditions during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

A wet period with multiple storms since late November resulted in above-average precipitation across much of California. The largest 30-day positive anomalies (more than 4 inches) were observed across northern California. During the first two weeks of December, the capacity of Lake Shasta, one of the larger reservoirs in northern California, increased from 23 to 31 percent. Despite the more favorable pattern for beneficial precipitation, above-normal temperatures led to relatively high snow levels. Therefore, snow-water equivalent (SWE) values remain low from the Cascades south to the Sierras. The statewide average of SWE for California is 48 percent of normal for mid-December. A pattern change is expected along the West Coast during the remainder of December as an upper-level ridge builds across California with onshore flow shifting north to the Pacific Northwest. Although little or no improvement is expected during the next few weeks, seasonal precipitation tools are generally consistent indicating a wet signal for California during JFM. Climatology also favors improvement especially across coastal central and southern California where more than half of its annual precipitation typically occurs from January-March. Drought improvement is expected for California during this outlook period, but long-term hydrological drought concerns are likely to persist beyond March.
Forecast confidence for California is moderate.

Since the beginning of the wet season, frequent rain and high-elevation snow ended short-term drought across the Pacific Northwest, but long-term drought of varying intensity persists. According to analysis from the National Water and Climate Center on December 16, SWE values are in the lowest 5th percentile across the Cascades and mountains of northern Idaho. These low SWE values support persistence of long-term drought across most of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The JFM precipitation outlook indicates increased chances of below-median precipitation across northern Idaho and northeast Washington where development is favored by the end of March. Meanwhile, additional improvement of drought is expected along the southwest coast Oregon due to heavy rain forecast during the next week and a continued wet climatology.
Forecast confidence for Idaho, Oregon, and Washington is moderate.

Persistence is most likely for most of the Great Basin where the snowpack is below-average for the season so far and precipitation signals are weak among tools at most time scales. However, improvement is forecast for southern Nevada where seasonal precipitation tools are more consistent for a wet signal during January through March.
Forecast confidence for the Great Basin is low.

A reduction in the coverage of extreme drought occurred across northern New Mexico and southeast Colorado during the past two months. Elsewhere across the Southwest, drought coverage and intensity remained nearly steady following the end of the summer monsoon. A relatively dry time of year favors persistence across the high Plains of southeast Colorado and northeast New Mexico, while a deficient snowpack at this time of year near the Four Corners supports persistence for this area of the Southwest. Odds for above-median precipitation during JFM increase across the desert Southwest where improvement or removal of drought is forecast.
Forecast confidence for Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Colorado is low.

Varying intensity of drought persists across the central and southern Great Plains with exceptional drought centered over southwest Oklahoma and northwest Texas. Although a tilt in the odds towards above-median precipitation during JFM is forecast for the central and southern Great Plains, a relatively dry climatology favors persistence on a broad scale. Historically, only 10 to 15 percent of the annual precipitation occurs during this outlook period across Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northwest Texas. Improvement and/or removal is forecast for the remaining drought areas of Texas where the climatology during JFM is not as dry.
Forecast confidence for the Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northwest Texas is moderate and low for the remainder of Texas.

Short-term drought continues across parts of Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, and expanded along the central Gulf Coast. Severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor on December 16, exists from southeast Louisiana east to Mobile Bay where 60-day rainfall deficits exceed 6 inches. A low pressure system tracking across the Southeast during the next week is forecast to bring 0.5 inch to locally as much as 3 inches of rain across the aforementioned drought areas. The JFM precipitation outlook calls for equal chances of below, near, or above-median precipitation for much of the ongoing drought areas of the Southeast. Due to a weak signal among precipitation tools during JFM, confidence in drought removal by the end of March is reduced.
Forecast confidence for the Southeast is low.

Abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) expanded across the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota during the past two months. Persistence is likely for the small area of moderate drought since JFM is a dry time of year.
Forecast confidence for the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota is high.

Small areas of drought exist on Hawaii's Maui and Molokai Islands. Since the seasonal precipitation tools have a dry signal during a wet time of year, persistence and development of drought is expected.
Forecast confidence for Hawaii is moderate.

Forecaster: B. Pugh

Next Seasonal Drought Outlook issued: January 15, 2015 at 8:30 AM EDT

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Page last modified: December 18, 2014
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