NOAA Seasonal Drought Outlook – Feb., March, April

    Nearly 55% of the contiguous U.S. is experiencing drought conditions. Long-term drought is entrenched across much of the western half of the lower 48 states, with additional areas across the Upper Midwest, parts of the Southeast, and interior New England, experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.

    However, much of the West saw some improvement to drought conditions, as December brought much above-normal precipitation to many areas, in some cases record precipitation across the central Sierra Nevada Mountains. Seasonal snowpack is currently well-above normal for much of the West. However, the dry start to January (and likely a dry end to the month) will likely offset some of the gains observed in December for many areas.

    In addition, ongoing La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean are tilting odds toward warmer and drier conditions as the February-March-April (FMA) season progresses, particularly across the southern Great Basin and Four Corners region. Conversely, La Niña tilts odds toward a continuation of drought improvement from the Pacific Northwest to Montana.

    Slow improvements have also been observed across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest in recent months, associated with an active storm track and the buildup of snowpack as the Winter season has progressed.

    Improvements are likely to continue across the Midwest through the end of April. However, farther west in the Northern Plains, where snowpack is completely absent, precipitation signals are lacking, and much of the FMA season is climatologically dry, drought persistence is likely.

    United States Seasonal Drought Outlook Graphic - click on image to enlarge

    Click Image to Enlarge

    Parts of the Central and Southern Plains saw record warmth this Winter, accompanied by much below-normal precipitation, leading to drought expansion leading up to FMA. Drought is likely to persist and expand in coverage, as warmer and drier conditions are typical during La Niña seasons across these areas.

    Persistence is also favored across the Gulf Coast states and coastal portions of the Carolinas, with development likely along the central Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, and Florida for the same reasoning, and further supported by these areas entering into a climatologically drier time of year.

    From the interior Carolinas northeastward to New England, drought improvement and removal are most likely by the end of April, due to antecedent snowpack across these areas and near to above-normal precipitation favored for much of the FMA season.

    Forecast confidence is high for the Pacific Northwest and Montana, and moderate elsewhere for the Western Region.

    • Much above-normal precipitation was observed across much of the West during December, leading to widespread above-normal snowpack for the water year to date (October 1 to present). Aided by La Niña, above-normal precipitation has continued across the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, and Northern High Plains leading up to the FMA SDO release.
    • However, California, Nevada, and much of the Four Corners region has experienced a very dry start to January, with extended-range forecasts indicating a likely dry end to the month, which will offset the much above-normal normal (in some cases record) precipitation observed in the latter half of December for several locations.
    • Long-term dryness is still a concern for many areas across the southwestern CONUS, with most reservoirs still running below-normal and groundwater struggling to replenish.
    • Despite short-term drought indicators starting to improve, the likely continuation of La Niña conditions throughout FMA favor a return to drier than normal conditions, particularly for southern California eastward to the Southwest.
    • Conversely, the continuation of La Niña increases the likelihood for continued above-normal precipitation across much of the Pacific Northwest eastward to the Northern High Plains.
    • In addition, monthly and seasonal outlooks favor below-normal temperatures across the Pacific Northwest, parts of northern California, and the northern Rockies, with near to above-normal temperatures indicated for the remainder of the West. As such, drought conditions are likely to improve for portions of coastal northern California and much of the Pacific Northwest, extending eastward to the Northern High Plains, with persistence likely elsewhere in the West.
    • In addition, the warmer and drier signals in the Southwest in the monthly and seasonal outlooks increase the potential for drought development in portions of southern Arizona and the middle Rio Grande Valley.

    Forecast confidence is low to moderate for the High Plains Region.

    • There is some disagreement among many of the long-range statistical and dynamical model guidance with regard to the precipitation outlook across much of the High Plains Region.
    • The monthly and seasonal outlooks both favor above-normal temperatures from Nebraska southward at both lead times, with increasing dry signals across the Central Plains as FMA progresses.
    • Across the northern half of the High Plains Region, temperature and precipitation signals disappear entirely, with the exception of a tilt toward above-normal precipitation over the Northern High Plains.
    • Given the time of year and lack of antecedent snowpack across much of the region (south and west of North Dakota), drought is likely to persist as the ground is likely to remain frozen well into FMA.
    • In addition to February and March being climatologically drier months of the year for the region as a whole, once the ground does begin to thaw, above-normal precipitation signals across the Northern High Plains are not strong enough to indicate there will be enough snowpack to infiltrate the soils and relieve drought for many areas by the end of April.
    • Farther south in the Central Plains, antecedent dryness and increasing dry signals as FMA progresses indicates drought persistence is also likely, with the possibility of development across parts of southwestern South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and eastern Wyoming.

    Forecast confidence is moderate to high for the Midwest Region.

    • The mature La Niña during FMA indicates likely above-normal precipitation across much of the Midwest. Antecedent snowpack across the Upper Midwest, and the potential for additional snow in the short-term associated with short-wave low pressure systems that move across the Great Lakes region, increase the potential for drought removal in areas experiencing moderate (D1) drought and improvement in severe (D2) drought areas.
    • Farther southward and eastward, where precipitation signals are enhanced (>40% chance of above-normal precipitation during FMA), drought removal is likely by the end of April for all D1 and D2 drought areas.

    Forecast confidence is high for the Southern Region.

    • Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation have been the main story across much of the Southern Region since Fall 2021, leading to widespread expansion of drought from the Southern Plains to the Lower Mississippi Valley. During this time, Texas recorded its warmest Winter month on record, with the state-wide average December temperature reaching 59°F, beating the previous Winter month record of 58.4°F in February 2017, and smashing the old December record of 53.3°F set in 1933.
    • Long-term statistical and dynamical model guidance indicates a continuation of warm and dry conditions across much of the southern CONUS, with the strongest signals across western portions of the Southern Region in drought-stricken areas. As such, drought is likely to persist through the end of April, with drought development likely along the western Gulf Coast.

    Forecast confidence is low to moderate for the Southeast Region.

    • Leading up to the FMA SDO release, drought conditions have slowly improved across the Carolinas and parts of Virginia. Increased troughing across much of the eastern third of the CONUS through the week-2 period increases chances for the development of coastal low pressure systems along the base and ahead of the trough, favoring near to above-normal precipitation along the Gulf and Atlantic Coastlines.
    • Odds tilt toward above-normal precipitation during week-3 (first week of February) for interior portions of the Southeast as well.
    • However, at longer leads, above-normal temperatures are favored for the entire season, with dry signals indicated along the coastal areas of the Southeast.
    • In addition, coastal portions of the Southeast are climatologically entering into a drier time of year during FMA. The drier climatology coupled with the warm, dry La Niña signal indicate conditions in coastal areas, extending into the Florida Peninsula, are likely to deteriorate.
    • Therefore, drought persistence is likely across coastal portions of the Carolinas and across the Lower Mississippi valley, with drought development likely along remaining coastal areas of the Southeast and the Florida Peninsula, despite wetter than normal conditions in recent weeks and the potential for short-term relief early in the period.
    • For inland areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, antecedent wetness, the recent snowpack in the southern Appalachians, and weaker dry signals at the monthly and seasonal lead times indicate removal is more likely to occur from the Piedmont to the Applachians.

    Forecast confidence is high for the Northeast Region.

    • Despite the monthly and seasonal precipitation outlooks favoring equal chances for above, below, or near-normal precipitation, some of the long-range dynamical model guidance lean toward above-normal precipitation for interior parts of the Northeast. Additionally, the potential for the development of coast low pressure systems ahead of a mean trough over the eastern CONUS through the end of January increases the potential for heavy precipitation events over the next couple of weeks.
    • Therefore, drought removal and improvement are likely by the end of April for areas in northern New England currently experiencing moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought, respectively.

    Forecast confidence is high for Alaska and Hawaii, and moderate for Puerto Rico.

    • Despite a drier than normal trend along portions of the southern coast of Alaska, near to above-normal precipitation is favored through the beginning of February. Despite drier signals at the monthly and seasonal lead times, there are increased probabilities of below-normal temperatures in the long-range outlooks. Given generally wetter than normal conditions favored through the first week of February and below-normal temperatures in the long-range outlooks, Alaska is likely to remain drought-free.
    • Hawaii is also likely to remain drought-free by the end of April, as warmer and wetter signals are favored throughout FMA, with above-normal precipitation probabilities increasing as the season progresses.
    • In Puerto Rico, warmer and wetter signals are also favored during FMA, leading to an increased likelihood for drought removal entirely from the island.

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