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Drought conditions persist

“Drought is looking likely into spring and possibly into next summer for the western U.S.” This critical status report was presented by Steph McAfee, associate professor from the University of Nevada Reno. McAfee was also the Nevada State Climatologist during the Southwest Drought Learning Network Monthly Conditions & Resources Webinar that was held on Nov. 20, 2020. McAfee was joined by Kelly Smith of the National Drought Mitigation Center to provide current conditions, the latest drought status, tools to help navigate through the drought, forecasts based on the Climate Prediction Center’s Winter Outlook and more.

“As of Thursday, Nov. 19, extensive drought is over much of the southwestern U.S., and southern Plains states. The four corners (where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet) is in exceptional drought (category D4),” McAfee said.

Although eastern Colorado is in extreme drought (category D3) the western third of Colorado is in the higher risk category of exceptional drought. Much of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are in extreme drought, with a higher risk band of exceptional drought also meandering into those three states, especially in central and southwest Utah, north/central and south/central Arizona, and northern and southeast New Mexico.



In the big picture, the United States is largely split in half with the Plains states and most states westward in some form of drought. Eastward, precipitation has largely prevented any drought — except for some drought conditions in upstate New York into New England.

Most of the Plains from Texas, Kansas, Nebraska into the Dakotas do have abnormally dry (D0) to moderate drought conditions (D1). Oklahoma is currently faring better than the other Plains states, whereas it gets worse in the Nebraska Panhandle (category D3) and then westward.



Central Wyoming is in extreme drought with the rest of that state in moderate drought. Extreme northwest Wyoming is faring the best with a few areas currently considered in the lowest category of abnormally dry.

Much of Nevada is in extreme drought, except the extreme northern part of Nevada which is in a lower risk category of moderate drought.

North central California northward into Oregon also has areas of extreme drought.

DROUGHT IMPACTS

“We’re starting winter in drought across the region. Normally, we’d expect rain and snows to expand into our reservoir to get soils wet again — that we depend on,” McAfee said. “We’re getting reports of reduced forage production, poor crop and garden growth, increased fire, and reduced air quality with unusual levels of smoke with pollen in the air.” There have also been some reduced recreational opportunities including: boating, hiking, hunting and fishing attributed to affects of the drought.

There are several reasons for this drought:

*At the end of March and coming into winter, there was already some moderate to severe drought in the four corners. Then, spring was relatively warm and dry but spring was in the warmest 10 percent in four corners.

*Summer was even warmer and drier than normal. In much of Arizona and western New Mexico, there were near-record setting high temperatures.

*Warmer and dry weather continued into early autumn, althought parts of the Plains got a reprieve.

*Some western states are headed into winter with below average capacity in reservoirs.

*Additionally, we are currently experiencing La Nina conditions. Usually in a La Nina (the opposite of El Nino,) there are typically relatively warmer (not necessarily warm, but higher temperatures) and drier weather in a typical La Nina.

“We’re expecting a slight chance of warmer/drier conditions. This is a concern when we’re already in drought, and there are concerns about drought persisting and also expanding eastward over much of Oklahoma and southern Kansas,” McAfee said.

Fire danger concerns are also possible for Texas and Oklahoma in December, and possibly increasing into southern Kansas in February 2021.

An updated tool in 2020 available through an app and a website, helps track drought conditions and provides vital information to the U.S. Drought Monitor and the public can contribute. Through the mobile app https://go.UNL.edu/cmor and the website go.UNL.edu/cmor_drought_2020 known as the Condition Monitoring Observation Reports or CMOR or the expression: “See More Drought”…farmers, ranchers and others are encouraged to check out these maps, pull out some of the map links that people have identified as particularly important such as dry pastures and dry wells. There are special website tabs and maps for the Crops, Livestock, Household and Community Hydropower sectors. From these, there are options to report several concerns from a list of crop or livestock production impact, community hydropower impact and more.

“As drought is expected to continue, you can put in information regarding how is the drought affecting you, are you hauling hay, irrigating more? Do you have dry wells? How often is the drought near you, and how does it differ from normal? — and provide pictures with explanation of photos,” said Kelly Helm Smith, assistant director and communications coordinator for the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. People can add information seasonally or even weekly during drought conditions. “What I like about this tool, is the ease and simplicity of it, as a way to give people a chance to describe what is happening in their place.”

The National Drought Mitigation Center launched the updated 2020 edition of the CMOR Drought (see more drought) form in early January. “We first launched a version of this tool in 2018 and have been doing annual updates since then,” Smith said.

They have added sections for forestry, household, community hydropower, spawning and freshwater fish (separate from wildlife), and municipal water supply.

The public can click on the site and see if a certain location is experiencing a one in 10 year drought, or one in 20 year drought.

People can choose to remain anonymous when contributing helpful drought information, or they can add a general contributor such as extension, farmer, water supplier, homeowner or climate professional.

The first view on the site is still based on the seven-point dry-to-wet scale developed by the Carolinas Integrated Sciences Assessment and the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.

They also expect to add sector and impact maps, when needed.

“It’s a chance to speak for your location and give a voice to that place, and it’s more for sustained attention and preferably with photos to have a good basis for comparison,” Smith said. “It’s a tool to see how drought has evolved over time.”

The webinar was hosted by NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System, the National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southwest Climate Hub and the University of Nevada-Reno.


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