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Regional Drought Update Date
April 8, 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.

California-Nevada Grapples with Third Year of Drought as Wet Season Ends

Register here for the June 2 Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest.

 

Key Points

  • January through March 2022 was the driest on record for these three months for much of California and Nevada. The dry end of the wet season leaves California and parts of Nevada in a third year of drought—with drought conditions worse in California than a year ago according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 
  • Since October 2019, the beginning of the current drought, much of the region is missing over half a year's worth of normal precipitation. Some locations are missing as much as 1.25–1.75 years’ worth of precipitation.
  • In NOAA’s spring outlook, for the second year in a row forecasters predict prolonged, persistent drought in the West, including California and Nevada. Significant wildland fire potential is forecasted for parts of the region starting in May.
  • Drought impacts will continue to intensify and expand given a third dry year. Applying lessons learned from past droughts and drought preparedness are key.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions | April 5, 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 April 5, 2022:

  • 100% of California is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (40.67% in D3, 0% in D4)
  • California population in drought: 37,223,956
  • 100% of Nevada is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (32.57% 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)
40.67%
of California is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
40.07%
of Nevada is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought

Current Conditions

  • The dry end of the wet season leaves California and Nevada in a third year of drought—with drought conditions worse in California than a year ago according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The driest January through March on record for much of California and Nevada has reintensified drought, countering improvements made in late 2021.
  • 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 Southeastern California and Southern Nevada have received less than 50% of normal precipitation.
  • Since October 2019, the beginning of the current drought, much of the region is missing over half a year's to a year’s worth of normal precipitation. Parts of Northern California and Southeastern California are missing between 1.25–1.75 years’ worth of precipitation.
  • Whether a year is wet or dry in California and Nevada depends in large part on whether or not there are large storms, and especially their trajectory for Nevada. Only one weak atmospheric river made landfall along the California coasts between January and March, leading to the deepening of drought in the region. 
  • Snow drought has continued to expand and intensify across the West, including California-Nevada. As of April 1, snow water equivalent (SWE) at almost all of the California snow course stations has decreased to below 60% of April 1 normal SWE with several at 0%. In Nevada, snow melt is 1.5 to 3.5 weeks ahead of the past two winters and a month ahead of normal in the Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Carson, and Walker basins. 
  • Recent high temperatures throughout the region have contributed to more rapid snowmelt. 
  • Current water storage in the Western Sierras, represented here as reservoir plus snowpack, is about half of the normal snow plus reservoir storage for this time of year. Even though snow is melting, the inflow into several reservoirs remains low. For example, in the Lake Tahoe basin, snow melt has started, but the increase in lake level is minimal to date. 
  • The National Weather Service's California Nevada River Forecast Center is forecasting that the Central Valley Water Resource Index will be near a record low three-year accumulation total at the end of the water year. 
  • Nevada April-July streamflow forecasts throughout much of Nevada are 30th percentile or lower.  
  • The Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI)—or thirst of the atmosphere—and soil moisture continue to reflect drought in most of the region.
  • Dead fuel moistures have generally remained at or near historical lows across northwestern, central, and southern California this spring. This, along with an early start to the fine fuel growing season and ongoing long-term drought, will create an early start to the main portion of the fire season.
  • The snow plus reservoir storage above Lake Powell in the Upper Colorado River Basin are 84% of normal for this time of year, although the National Weather Service's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center is only forecasting 3,100–6,500 KAF (near or below historical averages) of unregulated flow into Lake Powell now through July. 
  • 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

U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for California and Nevada, showing the change in drought conditions from April 6, 2021–April 5, 2022.
U.S. Drought Monitor and 8-week change map for California-Nevada, showing where drought has improved, worsened, or remained the same from April 6, 2021–April 5, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Percent of Normal Precipitation: Water Year 2022

Percent of normal precipitation for California and Nevada from 10/1/2021 - 4/6/2022. 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–April 6, 2022). Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Normal Water Years' Worth of Missing or Extra Precipitation

A map of the Western US 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.

January–March 2022 Precipitation Percentile

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

Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers: January–March 2022

A map from 25˚N to 50˚N and from 145˚W to 110˚W showing the percent of normal precipitation for the Western US from over 1/1/2022 - 4/1/2022. California only has one weak landfalling atmospheric river. how the percent of normal precipitation throughout the western US for Jan - March 2022.
​​Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) map of landfalling atmospheric rivers during January–March 2022. See more information on the CW3E website.

Water Storage + Snowpack for Western Sierra Nevada Reservoirs and Lake Tahoe

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 28 western Sierra Nevada reservoirs. The reservoir+snowpack are near just the normal reservoir level for this time of year in the Western Sierra.

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. n the Lake Tahoe Basin, snowpack plies reservoir total is less than the normal reservoir levels for this time of year. The snow levels have declined, but Lake Tahoe has not increased significantly.
Water storage, a combination of snowpack and reservoir, compared to 2000–2015 normal in the Western Sierra and at Lake Tahoe compared to 1981–2010 normals as of early April 2022. Source: CNAP Water Storage Tracking.​​​​​

Snow Water Equivalent: Percent of April 1 Normal

Three figures showing the percent of April 1st normal SWE for all 213 California snow courses. As of April 1st nearly all the triangles are below 60% of Percent of April 1 Normal SWE with several, particularly in the northern Sierra at 0% (left). As of March 1, many of the stations were hovering around 60% of April 1 SWE with ~10 lower elevation in the northern Sierra over 100% (top right) and as of Feb 1 more stations in the northern Sierra were above 60% relative to March 1st (bottom right).
Percent of April 1 normal snow water equivalent (SWE) for all 213 California snow course stations as of April 1 (left), March 1 (right top), and February 1 (right bottom) divided by Northern (blue closed triangles) and Southern Sierra (red closed triangles). Snow coarse stations on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada are  noted by open triangles. Figure courtesy of M. Dettinger. 

Central Valley Water Resources Index

A time series of Central Valley Water Resources Index a proxy for streamflow volume available all along the Sierra in the Central Valley) daily observed volumes (right axis and shown in grey) and multi year volume accumulation (left axis and shown in pink) (both in 1000s acre feet) from October 1, 2019 (start of water year 2020) to April 6, 2022 as well as forecasted through the end of water year 2022 (September 30, 2022). The observed peak occurred on October 25, 2021 due to a strong atmospheric river. 3 year accumulated volume is observed and forecasted near record low.
A time series of Central Valley Water Resources Index (a proxy for streamflow volume available all along the Sierra in the Central Valley) daily observed volumes (grey) and multi-year volume accumulation (pink) (both in thousands of acre-feet) from October 1, 2019 (start of Water Year 2020) to April 6, 2022, as well as forecasted near record 3 year low through the end of Water Year 2022 (September 30, 2022). The observed peak occurred on October 25, 2021 due to a strong atmospheric river. Source: NOAA NWS California-Nevada River Forecast Center

April–July Streamflow Forecast

A map of Nevada and eastern California with forecasted April - July streamflow for Nevada and Eastern Sierra shown as circles with the color indicating the percentile for the period of record based on the 50% exceedance probabilities. All forecasts in Nevada are less than 42nd percentile and many less than 15th percentile.
Forecasted April–July streamflow for Nevada and Eastern Sierra shown as percentile for the period of record based on the 50% exceedance probabilities. Source: NRCS Water Supply Forecast Maps

Upper Colorado Reservoir Storage

A time series graphics showing water storage tracking (20 reservoirs + snowpack) in millions of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2021 thru Oct 1, 2022 (X-axis) for the Upper Colorado River Basin, upstream of Lake Powell. The reservoir and reservoir+snowpack are below normal reservoir level for this time of year.
Water storage for the Upper Colorado, a combination of snowpack and 20 upstream reservoirs, compared to 1989-2018 normal as of early April 2022. An inset time series of reservoir storage is shown. Source: CNAP Water Storage Tracking.

Recent and Potential Drought Impacts

  • Find additional impacts through the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Drought Impact Reporter
  • The economic impacts of the 2021 drought on California totaled an estimated $1.7 billion (UC Merced).
  • At a NIDIS-hosted webinar, UC Cooperative Extension reported rangeland conditions across California of reduced foraged production, reduced streamflow, grasses maturing early (1–1.5 months), and some ranches selling/shipping livestock early.
  • April 1: Due to critically dry hydrologic conditions, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation updated water supply allocations for Central Valley Project municipal and industrial water service contractors. Effective April 1, water supply for all Central Valley Project M&I water service contractors will be reduced to Public Health and Safety.
  • March 28: California Governor Newsom took steps to drive water conservation at the local level, calling on local water suppliers to move to Level 2 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plans and directing the State Water Resources Control Board to consider a ban on the watering of decorative grass at businesses and institutions.
  • March 21: The California Department of Water Resources awarded $180 million to communities statewide for urban and multi-benefit drought relief projects.
  • March 13: California Governor Gavin Newsom boosts state funding for drought emergency with additional $22.5 million.
  • California recently proposed a $2.9 billion plan to pay farmers to reduce some of their planting in an effort to better manage water resources. The voluntary agreement negotiated between government officials and some of the state’s major water agencies, which was announced in late March, is also aimed at protecting salmon and other wildlife and ecosystems. 
  • Example Local Impacts: 
    • Los Angeles Department of Water and Power recently increased water conservation rebates. 
    • In March, Sonoma County Water Agency began the annual process of drawing from the Russian River weeks earlier than normal. 
    • The Fresno Irrigation District announced that it will conserve water by postponing the start of its water deliveries. No agricultural water deliveries will take place in March or April. The Merced Irrigation District will deliver water according to schedule, but less will be delivered, and the water will cost more than other years. 
    • The Bay Area commercial salmon season will start two months later than usual to protect fish stocks in Northern California, particularly Klamath River fall-run chinook salmon.
    • Bear activity in the Truckee Meadows and Tahoe Basin is expected to be higher than normal given the drought. 

California and Nevada are no strangers to drought. As the region enters its third year of drought, potential impacts reminiscent of the last multi-year drought are arising (See the California Department of Water Resources 2012–2016 Drought Overview [Table 1.2 and Chapter 4] and the 2015 Nevada Drought Forum). Through the remainder of the water year and beyond these impacts could include: 

  • Continued water supply issues, such as for small water systems and private wells. See the California Department of Water Resources (CA DWR) and Living with Drought in Nevada for resources.  
  • An early and active wildfire season, with an increased risk of catastrophic fires. See outlook information below, as well as how to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke from the CDC.
  • Intensifying impacts for both irrigated (e.g., fallowing fields, shorter irrigation seasons) and non-irrigated agriculture leading to increased economic impacts, including job losses.
  • Public health effects, especially for at-risk and disadvantaged communities, such as from poor air quality, access to water and water quality, disease such as coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever), and increased mental health stresses. Learn more here
  • Fish and wildlife impacts, such as on salmon. See how CA DWR is collaborating with partners to support the salmon population while supplying water. 
  • Drought compounding other stressors on ecosystems, such as leading to tree mortality. Read more via the U.S. Forest Service
  • Potential hydropower supply issues given reservoir levels, increasing reliance on alternative supplies that don’t align with greenhouse gas emission goals. See U.S. hydroelectric power plants in drought here

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. 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, Precipitation, and Fire Outlooks

In NOAA’s spring outlook, for the second year in a row forecasters predict prolonged, persistent drought in the West, including California and Nevada, where below-average precipitation is most likely. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is also forecasting above-average temperatures for most of the U.S. from the Desert Southwest to the East Coast and north through the Midwest to the Canadian border from April to June.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fire activity continued to increase in the Southwest, California, and across the plains of the Rocky Mountain area. Generally, periods of increased activity coincided with widespread dry and windy conditions. 

Above-normal significant fire potential is forecast to increase across northern California from May into July, with rising potential likely along portions of the Sierra Front. In Southern California, significant fire potential will be near to a little below normal across the geographic area April through July. In the Great Basin, fire potential is expected to remain low (i.e., normal) through April but is expected to increase by May and June from south to north. This would be considered a normal progression at the onset of fire season. However, depending on the length of the warming and drying trend that is possible from late April through May, fire season may increase more quickly than normal or start earlier in the higher terrain over the southern half of the Great Basin. More details can be found here

Seasonal Drought Outlook: April 1–June 30, 2022

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for April 1 to June 30, 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 April 1 to June 30, 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 April-June 2022.

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

National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook

Significant wildfire potential outlook for May 2022.
Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for May 2022 (issued April 1, 2022). Above-normal significant wildland fire potential (red) indicates a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildland fires will occur. Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) Predictive Services.

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.