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Regional Drought Update Date
June 3, 2021
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for California-Nevada


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

Drought Impacts Increase Across California-Nevada and Concern for Wildfire Potential Grows.

Key Points

  • After 2 water years of dry conditions, both California and Nevada are now 100% in moderate-to-exceptional drought (D1-D4)
  • Snowpack since April 1 has rapidly decreased earlier than normal to near zero, with run-off going into parched soils. Reservoir levels are low throughout the region.
  • Drought leads to concern for wildfire season. California has seen more fires and acres burned than this time last year. 
  • 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.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: California-Nevada | June 1, 2021

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 June 1, 2021:

  • 100% of California is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (48% in D3, 26% in D4)
  • California population in drought: 37,250,607
  • 100% of Nevada is experiencing Moderate (D1) to Exceptional (D4) Drought (35% in D3, 41% in D4)
  • Nevada population in drought: 2,700,554

U.S. Drought Monitor Categories

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #f5ad3d identifies:
D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4 - Exceptional Drought
Main Stats
100%
of California and Nevada are in drought (D1-D4)
74.46%
of California is experiencing Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3-D4)
76.01%
of Nevada is experiencing Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3-D4)

Current Conditions

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over the last 4 weeks drought conditions degraded in parts of central and coastal California, including the Sacramento Valley. Both California and Nevada are now 100% in drought. Nearly 50% of the region has seen a 3-5 drought class degradation over the last year. 
  • Since October 2019, much of California and Nevada are missing 1+ years worth of precipitation, and California has 1.5+ years of missing flow. 
  • The snowpack in the Sierra is nearly gone, with snowmelt occurring much earlier than normal (averaged over 2000-2015) and reservoir levels in the 28 Western Sierra reservoirs are about 75% of normal. Snowpack that feeds Lake Tahoe has mostly melted, and lake levels are about two-thirds of normal (averaged over 1981-2010) for this time of year. Most of the 10 largest reservoirs in Northern California are at or below the lowest 10th percentile levels for this time of year, with Lake Oroville near a record low. 
  • Flows remain below to extremely below normal, and high soil moisture deficits have reduced runoff efficiencies. For more detail, visit the California and Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Supply Outlooks. 
  • The current 2019-2021 drought is similar in precipitation deficit to 2012-2014 and 2013-2015, and it is a degree cooler on average than the 2013-2015 time period. 
  • Evaporative demand (the atmospheric thirst that drives evapotranspiration) remains high as it has been throughout this water year, and vegetation is showing stress.
  • The current drought conditions have led to concern for the wildfire season. According to CAL FIRE, there have been more fires and acres burned in California in 2021 so far than last year to date. More wildland fire information can be found in a webinar summary of the May 24th Drought Update and Wildland Fire Outlook for California and the Southwest.  

How is drought affecting your neighborhood?

Click to see drought indicators, outlooks, and historical conditions by city, county, and state, and to sign up for U.S. Drought Monitor alert emails.

U.S. Drought Monitor 1-Year Change Map

1-year U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for California and Nevada, showing the change in drought categories for the contiguous U.S. from June 2, 2020 - June 1, 2021. Nearly 50% of California and Nevada had a 3-5 drought class degradation over the past year.
U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for California and Nevada, showing drought class improvement and degradation from June 2, 2020 to June 1, 2021. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Percent of Normal Precipitation: Last 30 Days and Water Year to Date

Percent of normal precipitation for California and Nevada for May 1-30, 2021. CA-NV has been extremely below normal precipitation. The exception being parts of northern and central Nevada over the past 30 days.

Percent of normal precipitation for California and Nevada for water year 2021, from October 1, 2020 to May 30, 2021. CA-NV has been extremely below normal precipitation, continuing the trend since the start of the water year.
Percent of normal precipitation for the last 30 days (top) and since the start of water year (bottom) through May 31, 2021. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Precipitation Anomaly Since October 2019

A map of the Western U.S. showing the missing or excess number of years of precipitation as of June 1, 2021 based on normal (1981-2010 average) water year precipitation. Much of California and Nevada are missing more than 0.5 years of precipitation. Northern California and Washoe County are missing over a year’s 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).

Water Storage + Snowpack for the Western Sierra and Lake Tahoe

Time series graphic showing water storage tracking (reservoirs + snow pack) in millions of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2020 thru Oct 1, 2021 (X-axis) for the 28 Western Sierra reservoirs.   The 2000-2015 reservoir normal peaks near May 1 for the 28 reservoir storage (June 1 for Lake Tahoe) and April 1 for reservoir+snowpack. In the Western Sierra, reservoir normals are below normal with snowpack depleted.

Time series graphic showing water storage tracking (reservoirs + snow pack) in millions of acre-feet (Y-Axis) for Oct 1, 2020 thru Oct 1, 2021 (X-axis) for Lake Tahoe.  In d Lake Tahoe, reservoir normals are below normal with snowpack depleted.
CNAP Water Storage Tracking comparing current below-normal reservoir and snowpack in the Western Sierra Nevada (top) and Lake Tahoe (bottom) to 1981-2010 normals through the beginning of June 2021.

Oroville Reservoir Water Storage

Time series from Oct 2019 through Oct 2021 showing water stored (thick blue line) in Oroville lake in millions of acre feet.  Oroville Reservoir levels are near record low after dropping over the last year.
Oroville reservoir storage from the start of the 2020 Water Year (October 1, 2019) through October 2021, compared to 1971-2020 reservoir storage percentiles. Source: CNAP 2020-2021 Drought Years Reservoir Tracker (visit to see similar graphics and more for 10 major northern California reservoirs).

Comparison of Past California Temperature and Precipitation Deficits

 plot that shows two year period average temperature (x-axis) and total precipitation (y-axis) throughout California since 1900. Each two year period is shown as a grey circle, except for the two year periods between 2011-2021 are shown as a light brown. The driest periods (2012-2014, 2019-2021, 2013-2015, 1922-1924, 1975-1977) are shown as dark maroon small circles and are in the lower quadrant of precipitation.
A comparison between the temperature and precipitation deficits throughout California associated with a two-year period since 1900. The current 2019-2020 drought is similar in precipitation deficit to 2012-2014 and 2013-2015 and is a degree cooler on average than the 2013-2015 time period. For more information, please see the Public Policy Institute of California.

Precipitation Percentiles for Central Nevada: 1900-Present

ime series (horizontal axis) of precipitation percentiles from 1900 to present as a function of timescale (vertical axis) for Nevada Climate Division 3 (central Nevada). The timescale indicates the length of the averaging period. The recent drought (2020-2021) shows an intensification of drought over the last 18-24 months.
Time series of precipitation percentiles (horizontal axis) from 1900 to present as a function of timescale (vertical axis) for Nevada Climate Division 3 (central Nevada). The timescale indicates the length of the averaging period. For instance, a timescale of 6 months is the average precipitation over the 6-month period ending (and including) the month noted on the horizontal axis. The dark red/orange colors denote periods of very low precipitation while the darker blue colors indicate periods of relatively wet conditions. The percentiles were calculated using NOAA climate division precipitation data extending from 1895 to present. More information, including other climate divisions, can be found here. Source: CNAP.

1-Month Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI)

 California Nevada map of one-month EDDI  for 5/18/2021. One-month EDDI shows ED3-ED4 category over southern CA and the Bay area to the Sacramento Valley, as well as pockets over western and southwestern Nevada.
One-month Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) from May 18, 2021 has been high across the region, exacerbating the current drought by drying the landscape. Visit the Great Basin Dashboard for 3-month and 6-month EDDI maps. 

Recent Drought Impacts

  • Current conditions continue to intensify and expand drought impacts as the region heads into summer. 
  • Over the past month, Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR) highlight less water for irrigation, reduced yields, poor pasture forage, supplemental feeding, reduced grazing on public lands, animal stress, dry stock ponds, water hauling, culling and selling cattle, new well drilling, more invasive species, and water conservation. 
  • On May 26, the State Water Resources Control Board notified 930 junior water rights holders in the Upper Russian River basin that there is not enough water in the system and that diversions must be reduced immediately. 
  • On May 17, the California Department of Water Resources filed an application for water quality certification with the State Water Resources Control Board for the 2021 Emergency Drought Salinity Barrier Project.
  • On May 12, extreme drought conditions forced closure of Klamath Project’s “A” Canal.
  • On May 10, California Governor Newsom expanded the Drought Emergency to Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and Tulare Lake Watershed Counties and announced a $5.1 billion package for water infrastructure and drought response. 41 counties are now under a drought state of emergency to protect communities and the environment, representing 30% of the state’s population. This follows an April 10 emergency proclamation directing state agencies to take immediate action to bolster drought resilience across the state and declaring a state of emergency in Mendocino and Sonoma counties due to severe drought conditions in the Russian River Watershed.
  • On May 5, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) placed a hold on North-of-Delta Agriculture Service Contractors due to worsening drought conditions. On May 26, USBR reduced M&I water service contractors allocations from 55% to 25% of historic use and confirmed the May 5 0%.
  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking the proactive measure of trucking millions of hatchery-raised juvenile Central Valley fall-run chinook salmon this spring to San Pablo Bay, San Francisco Bay, and seaside net pens due to projected poor river conditions in the Central Valley. 
  • California has already experienced a significant increase in the number of wildfires and acres burned compared to last year. 

California Wildfire Statistics: 2020 vs. 2021 Year-to-Date

Wildfire statistics for California, comparing January - May 2020 to January - May 2021. 2,818 fires burned 16,800 acres year to date in 2021, compared to 1,988 fires burning 3,611 acres over the same period in 2020.
California wildfire statistics for 2021 year-to-date compared to the same period in 2020. Source: CAL FIRE.
  • Many counties or districts have declared local drought emergencies across the northern and central part of California and parts of Nevada, including Truckee Meadows Water Authority, which declared level 2 drought (which means required water conservation measures this summer). Media outlets are reporting impacts such as:
    • 30% reduction in water deliveries to Truckee Carson Irrigation District farmers. Douglas County commissioners in Nevada have adopted a resolution declaring drought conditions and are encouraging water conservation. 
    • All 5 of Napa County’s cities are promoting water conservation going into this summer, and both wine production and tourism worries grow.
    • Wells are starting to dry up in Fresno County. Some portions of Kings River are reportedly dry.
    • South Lake Tahoe boat ramp closed due to low water levels. Dozens of houseboats are being pulled out of Lake Oroville due to falling water levels.
    • Farmers are choosing not to plant and pulling out of farmers markets and produce-box subscriptions. Some Central Valley farmers are destroying crops to save water for other crops.
    • Water districts struggling with limited or no supplies are looking to their counterparts in other districts to negotiate water transfers to add whatever flexibility they can.
    • According to the recent California National Agricultural Statistics Service reports, many crops are being impacted, such as reduced rice acreage, and some growers have removed almond trees due to the lack of available water. 

Report Your Drought Impacts

Drought and Climate Outlook

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

NOAA’s ENSO alert system status is currently a final La Niña advisory—La Niña has ended—with ENSO-neutral likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer (67% chance in June-August 2021). For more information, please check out the NOAA ENSO blog, including a discussion on potential back-to-back La Niña years

Seasonal Drought, Temperature, and Precipitation Outlooks

With the close of the primary wet season in California-Nevada, drought is expected to persist in the near term and through summer. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts through August have increased odds of above-normal temperatures with the highest odds centered on Nevada in June and on the Four Corners areas over the summer. Most of the region has equal chances of above/normal/below precipitation, including those areas impacted by the summer monsoon.

Seasonal Drought Outlook: May 20 - August 31, 2021

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, showing the likelihood that drought will improve, worsen, or remain the same from June to August 2021. Drought is expected to persist throughout California and Nevada through August.
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for May 20 to August 30, 2021, showing the likelihood that drought will develop, remain, or improve. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Three-Month Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for June to August 2021. Odds favor above-normal temperatures for most of the U.S.

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for June to August 2021.  Odds favor equal chances or above- or below-normal precipitation for most of California and Nevada.
June through August 2021 temperature outlook (top) and precipitation outlook (bottom). A = chances of above-normal; EC = equal chances of above, below, normal; B = chances of below-normal. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction CenterHow do I interpret these graphics? 

National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook

According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services, fuels remain very dry across large swaths of the Southwest, Great Basin, and California, with fuel dryness in much of the West two to four weeks ahead of schedule. The Southwest is forecast to have above-normal significant fire potential through June before the Southwest Monsoon arrives. Above-normal significant fire potential will expand northward into the Great Basin through August and into the Sierra in June and July and continuing through September. Most mid- and upper-elevation areas are expected to have above-normal significant fire potential from June through September, except for some coastal and far eastern areas. Lower elevations in California remain at normal through August because strong downslope wind patterns are unusual during summer months and fuel loading is light. 

June - July Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook

National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for June 2021, showing where there is above-, below-, and normal potential for significant wildland fire. There is above-normal potential in parts of northern California.

National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July 2021, showing where there is above-, below-, and normal potential for significant wildland fire. There is above-normal potential along the coast and northern border of California, as well as parts of northwestern and central California.
June (top) and July (bottom) Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook from National Interagency Fire Center Predictive Services. Above normal indicates a greater than usual likelihood that significant fires will occur.

Drought Early Warning Resources

California     Nevada     California-Nevada DEWS

Prepared By

Amanda Sheffield
NOAA/NIDIS California-Nevada DEWS Regional Drought Information Coordinator
Email: amanda.sheffield@noaa.gov

Julie Kalansky
Program Manager, California-Nevada Applications Program (NOAA RISA team)
Email: jkalansky@ucsd.edu

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 updates as conditions evolve.