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Regional Drought Update Date
March 15, 2022
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Drought Status Update

California-Nevada Drought Status Update


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NIDIS and its partners have released this special edition drought status update because of an extended dry spell, forecasted to continue, that is impacting parts of the western U.S. We will issue future regional drought status updates as conditions evolve.

After a soggy start, California and Nevada remain in drought as the wet season comes to a dry close

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

Key Points

  • January and February 2022 were the driest on record for those two months for much of the California and Nevada region. The dry January and February have decreased the odds of reaching normal water year precipitation and have led to the continuation of drought throughout the region. 
  • Extended range forecasts indicate a continuation of a dry weather pattern through the end of March for California and Nevada, bringing the climatological wet season to a dry close. 
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions | March 8, 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 March 8, 2022:

  • 100% of California is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (12.82% in D3, 0% in D4)
  • California population in drought: 37,223,546
  • 100% of Nevada is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (28.13% in D3, 7.5% 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
100%
of California and Nevada are in drought (D1–D4)
12.82%
of California is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
35.63%
of Nevada is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought

Current Conditions

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the driest January and February on record for much of the California and Nevada region has led to drought degradations over the past 8 weeks, countering improvements made in late 2021. More degradation is likely.
  • Most of the region has received between 50%–90% of normal precipitation since the start of the water year (Oct 1, 2021). The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada has received above-normal precipitation, while southeast California and southern Nevada have received between 30%–10% of normal precipitation.  
  • Since October of 2019, the beginning of the current drought, much of the region is missing over half a year's worth of normal precipitation. Parts of Northern California are missing between 1.25–1.75 years’ worth of precipitation. 
  • Water storage, represented here as reservoir plus snowpack, in the Southern Sierra is at about 60% of normal for the Sierra Nevada for this time of year. Northern Sierra water storage remains the lowest relative to normal for this time of year.  
  • Snow drought has expanded and intensified across the West, including California-Nevada. In California, the driest January and February in state history has led to a March 1 statewide snowpack of less than 70% of average, down from 160% at the start of the new year. The Klamath Basin, which straddles the California-Oregon border, has particularly low snowpack for this time of year.    
  • The odds of reaching water year normal precipitation, as of March 1, have decreased to less than 20% for much of the region, with the exception of the eastern side of Sierra Nevada and in eastern Humboldt county, which show close to 100% odds. 
  • California Governor Newsom’s administration announced on March 13 that it is spending an additional $22.5 million to respond to the immediate drought emergency, and on March 4 California Department of Water Resources (DWR) awarded $49 million to help small communities prepare for continued drought conditions. On February 23, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial 2022 allocation for the Central Valley Project contractors, some being 0%. State and local leaders are calling upon Californians to conserve water. 
  • Lake Powell is hovering just above the target elevation of 3,235 ft and is forecasted to drop below this target elevation in the coming week. Spring run off will likely bring it above this target threshold.  

U.S. Drought Monitor 8-Week Change Map

U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for California and Nevada, showing the change in drought conditions from January 11–March 8, 2022. Areas of CA-NV have seen 1-2 class degradation.
U.S. Drought Monitor and 8-week change map for California-Nevada, showing where drought has improved, worsened, or remained the same from January 11–March 8, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

January–February 2022 Precipitation Percentile

A map of the state of California and Nevada shows the January-February 2022 precipitation percentile.  Most of the region is much below normal to record driest conditions in this time period.
Precipitation percentile for January and February 2022. Valid March 2, 2022. Source: Westwide Drought Tracker.

 

Percent of Normal Precipitation: Water Year 2022

Percent of normal precipitation for California and Nevada from 10/1/2021 - 3/12/2022.  Southern Nevada and much of California show less than 70% of precipitation. Eastern Sierra Nevada and much of Northwest Nevada have received over 100% normal precipitation.
Percent of normal precipitation since the start of Water Year 2022 (October 1, 2021–March 12, 2022). Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Odds of Reaching Water Year Normal Precipitation

Two maps show odds of reaching 75% (left) and 100% (right) of water year normal precipitation for water year 2022 as of March 1, 2022 for the western U.S. Most of California and Nevada have 0%-30% odds of reaching 100% of normal precipitation except for the Eastern Sierras which has near 100% of normal. Most of the region has 80-100% odds of reaching 75% of water year normal except southeastern California and Southern Nevada.
The odds of reaching water year normal precipitation based on historical water year totals (75% of normal, left, and 100% of normal, right) as of March 1, 2022. Learn more about this product at CW3E

Normal Water Years' Worth of Missing or Excess Precipitation

A map of California and Nevada showing the missing or excess number of years of precipitation as of October 1, 2019 based on normal (1981-2010 average) water year precipitation. Much of California and Nevada are missing more than 0.5 years of precipitation. Parts of northern California 1.25-1.75 years worth of precipitation.
The number of normal (average) water years' worth of precipitation missing or in excess since the beginning of the most recent drought, October 2019. Source: California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP, a NOAA RISA team) and PPIC. Courtesy of M. Dettinger.

Water Storage + Snowpack for Sierra Nevada Reservoirs and Lake Tahoe

Three time series graphics showing water storage tracking (reservoirs + snow pack) in millions of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2021 thru Oct 1, 2022 (X-axis) for 3 parts of the Sierra broken down by north (top), central (middle), southern (bottom). The reservoir+snowpack are well below normal for this time of year in all graphics. In the Northern Sierras the snowpack plies reservoir total is less than the normal reservoir levels for this time of year.

A time series graphic showing water storage tracking (reservoirs + snow pack) in millions of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2021 thru Oct 1, 2022 (X-axis) for Lake Tahoe. The reservoir+snowpack are well below normal for this time of year in all graphics.
Water storage, a combination of snowpack and reservoir, compared to 2000–2015 normal in the Northern, Central, and Southern Sierra and at Lake Tahoe compared to 1981–2010 normals as of early March 2022. Source: CNAP Water Storage Tracking.​​​​​

Drought and Climate Outlook

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

NOAA’s ENSO alert system status is currently a La Niña Advisory. La Niña is favored to continue into the Northern Hemisphere summer (53% chance during June–August 2022), with a 40%–50% chance of La Niña or ENSO-neutral thereafter. For more information, please check out the NOAA ENSO blog.

Subseasonal to Seasonal Drought, Temperature, and Precipitation Outlooks

According to the NOAA National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, the next three months’ forecasts show drought persisting across California and Nevada as equal chances above/below/normal to below-normal precipitation are forecasted across the region. Equal chances of above/below/normal to above-normal temperatures are also forecasted. Updated forecasts will be released on Thursday March 17th by the National Weather Service.

The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes’ latest outlook shows disagreement amongst the forecast models on atmospheric river activity in the coming weeks. However, models show moderate-to-high confidence in ridging activity off the coast of California, indicating a drier California. 

 

Seasonal Drought Outlook: March 1–May 31, 2022

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for March 1 to May 31, 2022, showing the likelihood that drought will develop, remain, improve, or be removed.  Drought is likely to persist throughout California and Nevada.
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for March 1 to May 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

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, valid for March-May 2022.

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook, valid for March-May 2022.
U.S. seasonal temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) outlooks, showing the likelihood of above- or below-normal conditions for March–May 2022. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Drought Early Warning Resources

California

Nevada

California-Nevada DEWS

Prepared By

Amanda Sheffield
California-Nevada DEWS Regional Drought Information Coordinator, NOAA/NIDIS, CIRES

Julie Kalansky
California Nevada Applications Program (CNAP), Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Special Thanks

 

This drought status update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the California-Nevada Applications Program, a NOAA 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.