According to the February 16, 2021, U.S. Drought Monitor, moderate to exceptional drought covers 37.8% of the United States including Puerto Rico, a decrease from last week’s 38.4%. The worst drought categories (extreme to exceptional drought) decreased from 17.0% last week to 15.9%.
The upper-level circulation pattern over the contiguous United States consisted of a strong low-pressure trough over central North America with high-pressure ridging along the East Coast and over the eastern North Pacific just off the West Coast. The pattern was locked into place throughout the week with the center of the deep low-pressure trough located in the northern Plains along the Canadian border. Frigid arctic air was funneled into the central part of the contiguous United States by the upper-level trough, with much of the Plains experiencing the coldest temperatures in decades. Only parts of the Southwest and Southeast averaged warmer than normal for the week.
Several Pacific weather systems moved along the edge of the trough, bringing rain, snow, and freezing rain to much of the West, South, and East, and parts of the central Plains. The week was drier than normal outside of this storm track, namely across parts of southern California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Arizona; much of the northern Plains; and parts of the central Plains to western Great Lakes.
Above-normal precipitation in parts of the Plains and Gulf of Mexico coast, and improving mountain snowpack in the West, improved drought and abnormal dryness, but continued moisture deficits in the western Great Lakes lead to expansion of abnormal dryness. Drought contraction was more than expansion, so the overall U.S. drought footprint decreased this week.
Abnormal dryness and drought are currently affecting over 119 million people across the United States including Puerto Rico—about 38.3% of the population.
In addition to Drought.gov, you can find further information on the current drought as well as on this week’s Drought Monitor update at the National Drought Mitigation Center. See their recent news releases.
The most recent U.S. Drought Outlook is available from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides information about the drought’s influence on crops and livestock.