Tools used in the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook (SDO) include the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) temperature and precipitation outlooks for March and March-April-May (MAM), various short- and medium-range forecasts and models such as the 7-day quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) totals from the Weather Prediction Center (WPC), the 6-10 day and 8-14 day CPC extended-range forecasts (ERFs), dynamical models at the monthly and seasonal time scale, climatology for MAM, and initial conditions such as soil moisture. The U.S. Drought Monitor valid on February 13, 2024 was used for initial drought conditions. El Niño conditions are currently present, with a nearly 80-percent chance of transition to ENSO-neutral conditions by the AMJ season.
As of the US Drought Monitor valid on February 6, 2024, areal drought coverage across the Western Region was just above 27 percent, which is less than half of the coverage at the same time last year. Generous Pacific moisture, partly fueled by El Niño conditions, brought some drought relief to portions of Washington and Oregon, as well as the Four Corners states. Multiple atmospheric river events maintained drought-free conditions across California, while causing flooding and mudslides across coastal regions. In contrast, drought and abnormal dryness expanded across the northern Rockies, portions of the Great Basin, and central and eastern Oregon where precipitation amounts were lighter. Additionally, much of the precipitation that fell across the northwest occurred during periods of above-normal temperatures, reducing the ability to store moisture through snowpack building. Climatological precipitation decreases substantially across the West during the MAM period. A wet pattern is favored, with renewed atmospheric river activity in the short term expected to bring copious amounts of rainfall to coastal California, and heavy snows to the Sierra nevadas. Above-average precipitation remains favored for California, the Great Basin, and the central Rockies during March, with equal chances for below-, near-, and above-normal precipitation maintained during the MAM period. Based on these outlooks, widespread drought development is not likely for California, the Great Basin, or the central and southern Rockies, though with the decreasing climatology, drought persistence is favored for regions already experiencing drought conditions. Some slow drought development is possible across the northern Cascades and northern Rockies, where snowpack conditions are currently meager and the monthly and seasonal guidance favors below-average precipitation.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the Western Region.
Unusually heavy winter precipitation in January brought some drought relief to portions of Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, while seasonably dry conditions prevailed across the northern Plains. Temperatures over the last month have ranged considerably above normal across the High Plains region, particularly along the northern tier. This unusual warmth, coupled with seasonably dry conditions, has prevented the development of substantial winter snowpacks. Above-average temperatures remain favored across the High Plains during the MAM period, which reduces the potential for any Spring storm systems to reverse the meager snow conditions. Therefore, with less water than normal available to replenish soils and streams during the Spring melting season, drought development is possible in regions already abnormally dry, particularly along the northern tier close to the Canadian border. Further south, CPC monthly guidance favors above-normal precipitation for Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, and seasonal guidance favors above-normal precipitation for much of Nebraska and Kansas. With precipitation climatology steadily increasing during the MAM period as Gulf of Mexico moisture increasingly penetrates northward, continued drought relief is favored for Kansas and Nebraska.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the High Plains Region.
An active southern stream pattern has brought substantial drought relief to much of the Southern Region, with overall drought coverage decreasing by more than half during the past three months. The biggest changes to the drought depiction have occurred across the lower Mississippi River valley and the Tennessee Valley, though pockets of severe to extreme drought remain due to the widespread impacts that occurred during the Autumn. In contrast, drier conditions prevailed across western Texas, which didn't substantially deteriorate drought conditions, but has made the region more vulnerable to Spring drought development. While a quieter pattern is favored in the short term, with the mean frontal boundary suppressed southward over the Gulf of Mexico, an overall active pattern is strongly favored to resume and continue through the monthly and seasonal time scales, consistent with ongoing El Niño conditions. The enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation favors continued drought reductions across eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, Louisiana, the lower Mississippi Valley, and the Tennessee Valley. Below-normal precipitation is favored to continue across the upper Rio Grande Valley. Therefore, as temperatures increase throughout the Spring months, drought persistence and development is possible for western and southern Texas.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the Southern Region.
Across the Midwest region, widespread drought conditions persist across the western areas, with a large pocket of extreme drought across eastern Iowa. An active pattern brought drought relief to much of Missouri, far southern Iowa, Illinois, and the Ohio Valley, while seasonable dryness prevailed to the north. Temperatures ranged much above-normal across the region, which has resulted in below-average snow cover conditions for this time of year. In the short term, an Alberta Clipper type system will bring a quick shot of snow across the Iowa and Minnesota border region, southern Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan. The monthly and seasonal guidance generally reflect a similar pattern to what has occurred throughout the winter months to date: above-normal temperatures favored along the northern tier, and enhanced precipitation more likely across the southern Corn Belt and Ohio Valley. Based on these outlooks, coupled with increasing precipitation climatology as Gulf of Mexico moisture increasingly penetrates northward throughout the Spring season, further drought reductions are possible for southern Iowa and Missouri, with persistence more likely to the north. The meager snowpack raises considerable concerns for Spring drought development along the northern tier; therefore, drought development is favored across northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the Midwest Region.
An active southern stream brought numerous bouts of precipitation and drought relief to the Southeast, and currently less than 3 percent of the region is experiencing drought. The largest region of moderate drought exists over northern Mississippi. A quieter pattern is favored in the short term, with the mean frontal boundary shifted southward over the Gulf of Mexico. Both the monthly and seasonal forecasts favor a return to an active pattern for the Southeast, however, with enhanced chances for above-normal precipitation. This forecast is consistent with ongoing El Niño conditions. Based on these outlooks, further drought relief is favored, and barring any early hot, dry episodes that could spark flash drought development, the Southeast Region may be drought free by the end of the Spring season.
Forecast confidence is high for the Southeast Region.
Very little drought is currently in place across the Northeast, with only a quarter of a percent coverage as of the February 6, 2024 US Drought Monitor. The CPC monthly and seasonal guidance favors above-average precipitation for southern New England, with equal chances for below-, near-, and above-normal precipitation across northern New England. Given these forecasts and a generous precipitation climatology during the Spring, no significant drought development is anticipated. The one exception to this is across far northern New England, where some antecedent dryness and a much below-normal snowpack have increased vulnerability to Spring drought development should periods of dryness and above-normal temperatures occur. Uncertainty is too high to include any regions of development at this time, but the region will continue to be monitored in subsequent updates.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the Northeast Region.
No drought is currently in place across Alaska. With monthly and seasonal guidance favoring generally near to above-normal precipitation, drought development is not anticipated.
Forecast confidence is high for Alaska.
Across Hawaii, despite the overall El Niño-generated suppression, a series of Kona Low events brought episodes of heavy precipitation to the islands, reducing coverage of drought conditions. As the El Niño event begins waning in the Spring, trade winds are favored to increase. Therefore, drought development across the windward sides of the islands is unlikely. However, given the suppressed signal persisting in the seasonal guidance, some redevelopment of drought is possible across the leeward sides of the islands.
Forecast confidence is moderate for Hawaii.
Drought conditions have slowly expanded across Puerto Rico over the last few months, due in part to an overall suppressed signal consistent with an El nino atmospheric response. During the last week, showers brought some relief to recently developed drought areas. Seasonal model guidance from the NMME suite of models generally favors enhanced precipitation during the Spring months; therefore, additional development is not favored. Substantial improvements will be more likely to occur as the summer convective season approaches, therefore, drought persistence of existing areas is maintained.
Forecast confidence is moderate for Puerto Rico.
Drought conditions have eased somewhat across the US Virgin Islands. Seasonal model guidance from the NMME suite of models favors enhanced precipitation during the Spring months. Therefore, continued drought reductions are favored.
Forecast confidence is moderate for the US Virgin Islands.
Forecaster: Adam Allgood
Next Seasonal Drought Outlook issued: March 21, 2024 at 8:30 AM EDT