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Regional Drought Update Date
December 2, 2021
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Midwest


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

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

Drought Conditions Improved This Fall, But Some Drought Issues Remain.

Report your Drought Impacts through Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR).

 

Key Points

  • Precipitation this fall provided much-needed drought relief to many areas across the Upper Midwest, primarily in Minnesota, which hit record-high drought categories this summer. However, drought remains and currently covers 52% of the state, with 27% in severe drought (D2) and 3% in extreme drought (D3).
  • In contrast, some portions of the Midwest have not received necessary fall precipitation, and drought conditions have worsened, particularly in Wisconsin. Drought of various levels has persisted since April in an area covering southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. 
  • Drought impacts are minimal and less severe this time of year. The concern with the current impacts of low streamflow and reduced soil moisture is the potential for moisture deficits across portions of the region heading into the next growing season.
  • Although short-term precipitation may begin to replenish near-surface water supply, it can take much longer to percolate into deeper soils and groundwater. It will be important to monitor winter precipitation to fully understand soil moisture conditions heading into next year’s growing season.
  • The winter outlook (December 2021–February 2022) shows a slightly higher chance for above-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures across much of the Midwest region; however, in the most drought-affected area of Minnesota, there are equal chances for below-, near-, or above-normal precipitation.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Midwest | November 30, 2021

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Midwest as of November 30, 2021.

The U.S. Drought Monitor 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. 

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
17%
of the Midwest is in drought (D1–D3)
39%
of the Midwest is abnormally dry (D0)
79
weeks of consecutive drought since May 2020

Current Conditions

  • Precipitation this fall provided much-needed drought relief to many areas across the Upper Midwest, primarily in Minnesota, which hit record-high drought categories this summer. However, drought remains and currently covers 49% of the state, with 27% in severe drought (D2) and 1.4% in extreme drought (D3). Portions of Iowa, southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, central Indiana, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan also saw some improvement (Figure 1).
  • In contrast, some portions of the Midwest have not been as fortunate with fall precipitation, allowing drought conditions to worsen. Moderate drought (D1) has expanded across northern and central Wisconsin and the southern part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the last three months and currently covers 47% of Wisconsin, with 2% of the state in severe drought (D2). In these areas, precipitation since early September has only been 25%–70% of normal (Figure 2). 
  • One area of persistent drought for the last several months is across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Drought conditions began in April 2021 in this area, with conditions peaking with extreme drought (D3) from mid-June to mid-July and again in September. While conditions have improved, drought persists with significant long-term precipitation departures (10–15 inches below normal over the last 12 months).

Figure 1. 12-Week Change Map for the U.S. Drought Monitor (Since September 7, 2021)

U.S. Drought Monitor change map for the Midwest, showing the change in drought classification from September 7 to November 30, 2021. Parts of northern and central Wisconsin and northern Michigan have seen a 1 to 2 category degradation, while central and western Minnesota and parts of Iowa have seen a 1 to 3 category improvement.
U.S. Drought Monitor change map, showing the change in U.S. Drought Monitor classification from September 7 to November 30, 2021. Green areas show where drought status improved, the yellow shows where drought worsened, and the grey areas are where the drought remained the same (compared to 12 weeks ago). Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Figure 2. 90-Day Percent of Normal Precipitation (September 3–December 1, 2021)

Percent of normal precipitation for the Midwest over the past 90 days (September 3–December 1, 2021). Parts of the Upper Midwest saw significantly below normal precipitation, while western Minnesota into Iowa, and parts of southern Michigan, northern Indiana, and northeastern Illinois saw well-above-normal precipitation.
Percent of normal precipitation across the Midwest from September 3 to December 1, 2021. The orange to deep red color indicates areas that were below normal for the time period, whereas green to purple areas were above normal. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center ACIS Climate Maps.

Impacts

  • Surface streamflow is below to much-below normal in portions of the Upper Midwest that are experiencing drought, primarily around northern Illinois, northern Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Figure 3).
  • There are only a few pockets of below-normal soil moisture in the Upper Midwest around western Lake Superior, central Iowa, southern Wisconsin, and western Michigan (Figure 4). In northern Illinois, in situ (observed) soil moisture from the state’s mesonet shows some stations’ soil moisture (4 inches) is below normal, with a decreasing trend in deep soil moisture (20 inches) as well. The recent warmth and lack of rain has helped to dry soil surfaces across larger areas, adding to the complication of soil moisture conditions across the region.
  • Outside of the growing season, drought impacts tend to be less apparent and less severe. Some current impacts include potential health issues due to leaf blowers kicking up dust from dry soils, dry small ponds and wetlands, and less food or water available for wildlife. Also, with prescribed burns still happening in some areas, dry soil and windy conditions increase the risk for the development of uncontrolled fires.
  • The concern with the current impacts of low streamflow and reduced soil moisture in some areas is the potential for issues next growing season. If winter does not bring enough precipitation to recharge the streams and soils, portions of the region could begin the next growing season with moisture deficits. When the ground is frozen, the amount of precipitation that can soak into the soils is limited. When the ground is frozen, the amount of precipitation that can soak into the soils is limited.

Report your Drought Impacts through Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR):

Submit Your Impacts

Figure 3. U.S. Geological Survey Streamflow Percentiles

Real-time streamflow conditions for the Midwest  from the U.S. Geological Survey compared to historical streamflow conditions for December 2, 2021. Surface streamflow is below to much-below normal in portions of the Upper Midwest that are experiencing drought, primarily around northern Illinois, northern Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Real-time streamflow conditions from the U.S. Geological Survey compared to historical streamflow conditions for December 2, 2021. Bright red dots indicate streamflow percentiles that are very low, dark red dots indicate much below normal (less than 10% of normal), orange dots indicate below normal (10%–24%), green dots indicate normal ranges (25%–75%), teal dots indicate above-normal (75%–90%), blue dots represent much above normal (over 90%), and black dots represent high percentiles. Source: U.S. Geological Survey, via Drought.gov.

Figure 4. NASA-GRACE Root-Zone Soil Moisture Drought Indicator

 Root-zone soil moisture drought indicator from the NASA-GRACE satellite, showing wetness percentiles relative to the period 1948–2012. There are only a few pockets of below-normal soil moisture in the Upper Midwest around western Lake Superior, central Iowa, southern Wisconsin, and western Michigan.
Root-zone soil moisture drought indicator from the NASA-GRACE satellite. The rootzone is defined as the top 1 meter of the soil, and percentiles are relative to the period 1948–2012. The blues represent wetness above the 70th percentile, white is between the 30th and 70th percentile, and yellows to reds represent the lowest percentiles (0 to 30). Source: NASA, National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Outlook and Potential Impacts

  • The NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) outlook for December 2021 shows slightly higher chances for above-normal precipitation around the Great Lakes basin, with equal chances for below-, near-, or above-normal precipitation elsewhere in the region. 
  • As a result, the U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook from CPC expects drought to persist across northern Minnesota, Iowa, and southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois, with potential drought removal in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Figure 5).
  • Looking at the entire winter season, the outlook for December 2021 to February 2022 from CPC shows a slightly higher chance for above-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures across much of the Midwest region, which could help alleviate remaining drought issues. However, the outlooks show equal chances for below-, near-, or above-normal precipitation and temperature across much of Minnesota, which is currently the most drought-affected area in the region (Figure 6).
  • Although short-term precipitation may begin to replenish near-surface water supply, it can take much longer to percolate into deeper soils and groundwater. It will be important to monitor winter precipitation to fully understand soil moisture conditions heading into next year’s growing season.

Figure 5. U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook (Valid December 2021)

Climate Prediction Center 1-month drought outlook, showing the probability drought conditions persisting, improving, or developing during December 2021. Drought is expected to persist across northern Minnesota, Iowa, and southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois, with potential drought removal in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Monthly drought outlook for December 2021. The brown color shows areas where the drought is likely to persist, and the yellow color shows areas where drought development is likely. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 6: U.S. Precipitation Outlook for December 2021-February 2022

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook for December 2021 to February 2022. Odds favor above-normal precipitation across much of the Midwest during this period, with equal chances of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions in eastern Minnesota and Iowa.
U.S. seasonal precipitation outlook for December 2021 to February 2022. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation, white areas represent equal chances for either above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation, and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

For More Information

Prepared By

Molly Woloszyn
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

Dennis Todey & Laurie Nowatzke
USDA Midwest Climate Hub

Doug Kluck
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

Melissa Widhalm
Midwestern Regional Climate Center/Purdue University

Ray Wolf & Audra Bruschi
NOAA/National Weather Service

Special Thanks

This drought status update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Midwest U.S. based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.