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 HOME > Expert Assessments > Drought Information > Seasonal Drought Outlook Summary
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook Graphic - click on image to enlarge
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Latest Seasonal Assessment - Drought (D1 or drier) remained nearly non-existent in the eastern half of the Nation, with only a few small areas along the central Gulf Coast and in the western Tennessee Valley. Recent widespread and heavy precipitation diminished the coverage and intensity of dryness and drought in the East and South. In contrast, long-term drought remained entrenched in California, the Intermountain West, most of the Great Basin and Southwest, and the southern third of the Plains, although there were some improvements made since the last SDO (released December 18, 2014). In north-central California, a 1-category improvement (from D4 to D3) occurred due to copious precipitation from late November until mid-December, causing localized flooding that also raised major reservoir capacities to levels where drought improvement was necessary. Minor improvements were also made in parts of the Northwest and Southwest. Since December 20, however, precipitation has been nearly non-existent across much of California and Nevada, halting the favorable moisture conditions that had raised hopes for additional winter drought improvement in California. In addition, the mild winter weather has allowed most of the precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow in higher elevations, reducing the snow water content (SWC) of Cascade and Sierra Nevada sites to less than 40 percent of normal as of January 13. In the Plains, spotty precipitation since mid-December produced a mixed bag of some improvement and deterioration. Finally, small areas of drought persisted on Maui and Molokai in Hawaii, although coverage of abnormal dryness increased. The January 12 ENSO Diagnostic Discussion indicated a 50-60 percent chance of El Niño conditions during the next few months, with ENSO-neutral favored thereafter.

The drought outlook valid from January 15 through April 30 is based primarily on initial conditions, the February and February-April precipitation outlooks, El Niño precipitation composites (a weak episode is possible this winter), and climatology. In California, the wet climatology for February and March (especially in the south) and a tilt of the odds toward above-normal precipitation in the monthly and seasonal outlooks across the southern half of the state should bring improvement there, but it must be emphasized that improvement is not elimination, and that most of the state will still be in drought to some degree by the end of April. Farther north, snowfall in the Sierras and Cascades will also be critical to ensure adequate spring and summer snowmelt and runoff, but with such low SWCs as of January 13, equal chances in northern California and southern Oregon and slight odds for sub-median precipitation in Washington in both the monthly and seasonal outlooks, spring runoff conditions are not looking promising, hence persistence in northern California and the Northwest. Elsewhere, monthly and seasonal precipitation odds favor some drought improvement across the Four Corners region into the southern High Plains. Along the central Gulf Coast, short-term forecasts point toward a continuation of the recent wet spell (although equal chances in the monthly or seasonal outlooks), thus improvement was rendered here. In contrast, drought is expected to persist in the southern third of the Great Plains and in the eastern Dakotas. Drought expansion is expected in the Tennessee Valley (dryness hinted by many dynamical models), and on the leeward sides of the Hawaiian Islands and much of the Big Island (monthly and seasonal Hawaiian outlooks favor submedian rainfall during their wet time of the year).

Forecaster: D. Miskus

Next Seasonal Drought Outlook issued: February 19, 2015 at 8:30 AM EDT

Seasonal Drought Outlook Discussion

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Page last modified: January 15, 2015
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