According to the February 28, 2017, U.S. Drought Monitor, moderate to extreme drought covers 14.1% of the contiguous United States, an increase from last week’s 13.8%. Areas of extreme drought also increased from 0.3% last week to 0.5%. No areas were in exceptional drought, the worst category.
Several weather systems traversed the contiguous United States in the fast-moving upper-level flow during this U.S. Drought Monitor week. Upper-level troughs, surface fronts, and surface low pressure systems brought above-normal precipitation to parts of the Southwest, parts of the Pacific Northwest to Great Lakes, and parts of the Southeast, Upper Ohio Valley, and Northeast. But, the speed and tracks of the weather systems left much of California and other parts of the West, most of the Central to Southern Plains, parts of the Southeast and Northeast, much of the Mid-Mississippi Valley, and Mid-Atlantic Coast drier than normal.
Temperatures averaged cooler than normal in the West under the influence of the troughs, while the dominance of ridging east of the Rockies resulted in above-normal temperatures. As noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the persistence of the unseasonably warm weather east of the Rockies has ushered winter wheat out of dormancy up to a month ahead of normal. The warm temperatures and unusually early green-up have increased evapotranspiration and heightened the need for soil moisture in areas wrestling with winter-time drought, at a time when crop-water demands are typically minimal.
As reported by the National Weather Service, vegetation has responded rapidly to the unusually warm temperatures, with flowers and trees blooming or in full bloom across east-central Georgia and central South Carolina. Drought conditions continued to improve in California, as the hydrologic systems responded to the precipitation of recent weeks and months, and in the Northeast. Drought and abnormally dry conditions expanded from the Southern Plains and Midwest to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast, reflecting precipitation shortages that have developed over the last one to three months as well as, in the Southeast, worsening hydrological conditions and long-term dryness.
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’s World Agriculture Outlook Board provides information about the drought’s influence on crops and livestock.