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Regional Drought Update Date
October 18, 2022
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Drought Status Update

California-Nevada Drought Status Update


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NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.

Water Year 2022 Closes Third Year of Drought as Fourth Year Looms.

Register here for the November 28 California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar.

 

Key Points

  • Water Year 2022 started wet with a strong atmospheric river and ended in continued drought due to almost no precipitation during January through March. 
  • The past 3 Water Years have been the driest in the California record. Both California and Nevada remain in almost 100% moderate-to-exceptional drought.
  • Both evaporative demand and lack of precipitation are drivers of the current drought since it began in October of 2019. Water Year 2022 had much lower evaporative demand than Water Year 2021, which limited the drying of the landscapes and helped mitigate fire risk.
  • Drought impacts (e.g., pasture conditions, ecosystem health, water supply, recreation, fire potential) have intensified and expanded given back-to-back dry years. Drought preparedness is key.
  • A ‘three-peat’ La Niña winter is forecasted for Water Year 2023, suggesting continued dry conditions in southern regions of California and Nevada. Extended range forecasts indicate the first atmospheric river of the Water Year will hit the west coast in the next 7 days. 
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions | October 11, 2022

The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. Drought categories show experts’ assessments of conditions related to dryness and drought including observations of how much water is available in streams, lakes, and soils compared to usual for the same time of year. 

California/Nevada conditions as of October 11, 2022:

  • 99.77% of California is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (23.34% in D3, 16.57% in D4)
  • California population in drought: 37,243,577
  • 100% of Nevada is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (44.61% in D3, 0% in D4)
  • Nevada population in drought: 2,700,551
U.S. Drought Monitor Categories
Value Map Hex Color
D0 - Abnormally Dry #ffff00
D1 - Moderate Drought #ffcc99
D2 - Severe Drought #f5ad3d
D3 - Extreme Drought #ff0000
D4 - Exceptional Drought #660000
Main Stats
99.9%
of California and Nevada are in drought (D1–D4)
40.91%
of California is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
44.61%
of Nevada is in extreme (D3) drought

Current Conditions

  • Over this last water year, drought has improved by one class in many parts of California and Nevada. Nonetheless, both states remain nearly 100% in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 
  • The past 3 years have been the driest on record in California and the third driest in Nevada, according to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. 
  • While Nevada currently has no exceptional drought (D4), partly due to the Southwest Monsoon, more than 99% of the region remains in severe drought (D2) or worse. 
  • The 2022 Water Year began with an exceptionally strong atmospheric river, AR 5, bringing record-breaking rain to the region. A wet December was followed by the driest 3-month start to a calendar year in the over 100-year record—ushering in a return of snow drought—for both California and Nevada with only one weak atmospheric river making landfall. 
  • Much of the region is missing between 0.5 to 1.5 years of precipitation, but streamflow deficits in many regions are even greater.   
  • Water Year 2022 had much lower evaporative demand than Water Year 2021, which limited the drying of the landscapes and helped mitigate fire risk. California year-to-date acreage burned is less than 20% of the 5-year average.  
  • Both evaporative demand and lack of precipitation are drivers of the current drought since it began in October of 2019. Evaporative demand is the primary driver in much of the Central Valley and the eastern slopes of the Sierras into Nevada, while lack of precipitation has been the primary driver in northern California and the Sierras. 
  • The Western Sierra reservoirs are starting the 2023 Water Year with 7.7 million acre-feet, about 1.5 million acre-feet more than at the start of Water Year 2022. In California, Lake Shasta reached near record low levels in December of last year, while Lake Orville recovered from a record low in Water Year 2021 to slightly above the 10th percentile storage level. Lake Tahoe is slightly above the rim, similar to where it was at the start of Water Year 2022. 
  • Extended range forecasts indicate the first atmospheric river of the Water Year will hit the West Coast in the next 7 days. 
  • For more information, check out Living with Drought in Nevada and the California Water Watch.

How is drought affecting your neighborhood? Click to see drought indicators, outlooks, and historical conditions by city, county, and state, as well as sign up for alerts.

View local drought information

U.S. Drought Monitor 52-Week Change Map

From October 5, 2021 to October 4, 2022, large parts of California and Nevada saw 1 to 2 category improvements, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
U.S. Drought Monitor 52-week change map, showing where drought has improved, degraded, or remained the same over Water Year 2022 (October 5, 2021–October 4, 2022). Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Water Year 2022 Percent of Normal Precipitation

California and much of Nevada have had below-normal precipitation over the water year. The region around the California/Nevada border has had near, slightly above and below, normal precipitation.
Percent of normal precipitation for Water Year 2022, October 1, 2021–September 30, 2022. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Strong or Greater Atmospheric Rivers (AR): Water Year 2022

California had an exceptional AR, an AR5, made landfall in October 2021, and one strong AR in December 2021, but no strong or greater ARs in January, February or March.
Only one exceptional atmospheric river (AR) made landfall along the California coast during Water Year 2022. There was only one weak atmospheric river (not shown) during January–March of 2022, the driest start to a calendar year in California. The lack of large storms, particularly atmospheric rivers, has led to the precipitation deficits throughout the region. Figure provided by C. Hecht at CW3E. A full summary of atmospheric rivers events during Water Year 2022 will be available soon at cw3e.ucsd.edu

Precipitation and Streamflow Deficits: Water Years 2020–2022 

Northern California and Washoe County are missing over a year’s worth of precipitation as of September 30, 2022 based on normal (1981-2010 average) water year precipitation. Coastal California is missing 1.25-2.5 years' worth of streamflow.
The number of normal (average) water years' worth of precipitation (left) and streamflow (right) missing or in excess since the beginning of the most recent drought, October 2019. Streamflow deficits are shown from USGS stream gauges (circles) and California Department of Water Resources estimated natural flow (stars). Figure provided by M. Dettinger, CNAP and PPIC.

Evaporative Demand Rankings for Water Year 2021–2022

Much of California has record setting evaporative demand and Western Nevada had 5th in water year 2021. In water year 2022 much of the region was in the mid range of the historical period with the exception of Central Coast and southeast of California.
Water Year 2021 (left) and Water Year 2022 (right) evaporative demand rankings for the western U.S. since 1980. Black indicates that 2021 had the highest evaporative demand while 2022 evaporative demand was not nearly as high. Figure provided by M. Dettinger, CNAP.

Relative Contributions of Precipitation Deficit and Surplus Evaporative Demand

From October 2019 to September 2022, the areas of highest precipitation deficits are the Sierra Mountains and much of coastal northern California.  Much of the California Nevada region is showing an evaporative demand surplus between 0-250 mm with greater surplus in northern California.
Top left: The precipitation deficit from October 2019 through September 2022. Top right: The surplus evaporative demand (ETo), or the atmospheric conditions leading to the drying of the landscape, from October 2019 to September 2022. Both precipitation deficits and ETo surpluses lead to drought. The relative contributions of these two drivers of drought are shown on the bottom. Red colors indicate drought dominated by precipitation deficits and green colors indicate a drought dominated by ETo. White colors indicate a similar contribution of both drivers. Source: CNAP and PPIC.
Water storage tracking (reservoirs + snow pack) in thousands of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2021 through Oct 1, 2022 (X-axis) for 28 Western Sierra reservoirs. In the Western Sierra, reservoir normals are well below normal.
Water storage tracking comparing current below-normal reservoir and snowpack in the 28 Western Sierra reservoirs to 2000–2015 normals through the end of Water Year 2022. Source: California-Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP, a NOAA CAP/RISA Team).

Water Storage in Shasta Lake and Lake Tahoe

Water stored in Lake Shasta in millions of acre-feet from October 2019 to October 2022.  Lake Shasta dropped to near record low in December 2021, but is now slightly above the 10th percentile storage line.

Water stored in Lake Tahoe in millions of acre-feet from October 2019 to October 2022. Lake Tahoe dipped below the rim in October 202 and is currently just above the rim.
Water stored in Lake Shasta (top) and Lake Tahoe (bottom) from the start of the 2020 Water Year (October 1, 2019) from the CNAP 2020–2021 Drought Years Reservoir Tracker (visit to see similar graphics and more for 11 major California/Nevada reservoirs).

Water Year 2022 Drought Impact Summary

Drought intensification or development on top of a multi-year drought hampers water supply replenishment and perpetuates dry soils and vegetation, all of which continue to stress water storage and water supply management. Over the past year, the region has enacted additional drought response actions, including California Governor Newsom’s Water Strategy, Nevada Governor Sisolak’s ‘Climate Change Threatens Nevada with Aridification’ proclamation, a resolution by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, funding, and emergency regulations by the California State Water Board. Lakes Powell and Mead also saw historically low water levels and forecasts, instigating action, including modified operations and funding

Impacts continue to amass as the drought continues, including impacts on water supply and costs leading to water restrictions (e.g., southern California started June 1) and reduced water allocations (e.g., Central Valley Project). The drought has also impacted energy (e.g., hydropower); agriculture (see CMOR and USDA drought declarations); recreation (e.g., skiing, fishing, hunting, park closures, water sports); and ecosystems (e.g., fuels for wildfire, harmful algal blooms, fisheries, and wildlife, such as migrating birds). The economic impacts of the 2021 drought on California totaled an estimated $1.7 billion (UC Merced), and 2022 estimates are in progress.

Recent and Potential Drought Impacts

Water Supply Impacts

  • In early October, California water agencies proposed to take voluntary action to reduce their water use by 1/10th starting in 2023 (AP).
  • The Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project began Water Year 2023 with 3.6 million acre-feet of water in storage—one of the lowest starting points in recent years.
  • In September, Department of the Interior officials at the Colorado River Symposium announced new steps to address the Colorado River Basin drought crisis. They also recently announced new drought mitigation funding opportunities.
  • In August, 618 water waste complaints came into the MyLA311 (Los Angeles) system, marking a fifth month of a record number of calls. Sacramento also saw an uptick in complaints.
  • Coalinga, California may run out of water by December, prompting discussions of costly purchased water. 
  • More than 1,200 wells have run dry this year in California, a ~50% increase over the same period last year.

Agricultural Impacts

  • A recent Condition Monitoring Observer Report (CMOR) from Contra Costa County, California said ranchers are feeding cattle almost year round or downsizing/selling.
  • Drought impacts on California produce such as tomatoes, onions, and winter leafy greens are adding pressure to grocery prices. Tomato forecasts were recently cut 10% from earlier forecasts by the USDA. 
  • USDA crop acreage data from August reported the number of unplanted crop acres in California—land where farmers had intended to plant a crop but were prevented from doing so by a natural disaster—as 532,000 acres (7% of the state’s cropland), an increase of 112,000 from 2021. Mostly acres came from cotton and rice, and the acreage is yet lower than the height of the previous drought in 2014–2015.

Wildlife and Ecosystem Impacts

  • Supplemental water has been provided for Tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore for the second straight year. 
  • Fir trees are perishing in greater numbers and faster in the Lake Tahoe Basin due to drought stress (Newsweek). In September, Napa County, California declared a local state of emergency due to high tree mortality from drought.
  • The Mosquito Fire, which began in early September and is California's largest wildfire this year, is 95% contained and has burned 76,788 acres. Lake Tahoe and nearby areas were engulfed in smoke, and locals have nicknamed September ‘smoke season’ with notable impacts on tourism (WSJ).

Other Impacts

  • Drought revealed a World War II-era boat at Shasta Lake, but how the boat came to be in Shasta Lake and sank is a mystery.
  • Temecula, California's annual Big Horse Corn Maze was canceled due to heat- and drought-stunted corn growth.

Report your drought impacts

Drought and Climate Outlook

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

NOAA’s ENSO alert system status is currently a La Niña Advisory. There is a 75% chance of La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter (December–February) 2022–23, with a 54% chance for ENSO-neutral in February–April 2023. For more information, check out the NOAA ENSO blog and how La Niña impacts the Western U.S.

Subseasonal to Seasonal Drought, Temperature, Precipitation, and Fire Outlooks

The late autumn and early winter months are a highly transitional time of year, as the wet season begins to ramp up along the West Coast. The next one-to-three month forecast shows drought persisting across California and the Great Basin, given the La Niña advisory. However, an increasingly wet climatology through the late fall and early winter favors improvement across parts of Oregon, Washington, and coastal northern California. Historically, La Niña is associated with dry to normal conditions in the southern part of California and Nevada. The September-October-November outlook from the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center also favors above-normal temperatures for the region. In the near term (1–2 weeks), there is likely landfalling atmospheric river, but strength and landfall location is unknown.

Seasonal Drought Outlook: October 1–December 31, 2022

From October 1 to December 31, 2022, drought is likely to persist across most of California and Nevada, except northwestern California, where drought is likely to remain but improve.
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for October 1 to December 31, 2022, showing the likelihood that drought will develop, remain, improve, or be removed. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Seasonal (3-Month) Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

For October to December 2022, odds favor above-normal temperatures across California and Nevada.

From October to December 2022, odds favor below-normal precipitation for southern California and Nevada, with equal chances of above- or below-normal precipitation elsewhere.
U.S. seasonal temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) outlooks, showing the likelihood of above- or below-normal conditions for October–December 2022. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Likelihood and Timing of Atmospheric River Conditions

n the near term (1–2 weeks), there is likely to be landfalling atmospheric river but strength and landfall location is unknown.
The CW3E Atmospheric River (AR) Landfall Tool displays the likelihood and timing of AR conditions (here IVT>250 kg/(ms)) at each point on the map in a line along the West Coast of North America or inland, derived from either the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Global Ensemble Forecast System or the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Ensemble Prediction System. Source: Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E).

Drought Early Warning Resources

California

Nevada

California-Nevada DEWS

Prepared By

Amanda Sheffield
California-Nevada DEWS Regional Drought Information Coordinator, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)

Julie Kalansky
Program Manager, California-Nevada Applications Program (A NOAA CAP/RISA team)

Special Thanks

This drought status update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the California-Nevada Adaptation Program, a NOAA CAP/RISA team, and the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute to communicate the current state of drought conditions in California-Nevada based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.