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Regional Drought Update Date
December 21, 2023
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Missouri River Basin


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future Missouri River Basin Drought Status Updates as conditions evolve.

Drought Is Likely to Persist Across Portions of the Missouri River Basin with an El Niño Winter Ahead

Key Points

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 35% of the area within Missouri River Basin states are in drought. The most intense conditions are in eastern Nebraska, where Exceptional Drought (D4) has persisted in some areas since late spring 2023.
  • Drought impacts are most prominent across Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa. Streamflow and other surface water (including livestock ponds) are very low, municipal water supply has been negatively affected in Iowa and Missouri, and vegetation (including winter wheat and Christmas tree seedlings) lack the moisture needed to grow.
  • Strong El Niño conditions have developed in the Pacific Ocean and are expected to continue. While each El Niño event is different, El Niño winters (Dec-Jan-Feb) tend to be warmer across much of the Missouri River Basin and drier in the Northern Rockies. 
  • The seasonal precipitation outlook for January – March 2024 has increased chances of below-normal precipitation in the northwestern portions of the basin, which, combined with above-normal temperatures, could mean less mountain snowfall. This would have a negative impact as snowfall during the winter in the Northern Plains is critical to replenish moisture in the system for the following year. 
  • The Seasonal Drought Outlook for the end of December through March 31, 2024 shows that drought is expected to persist across the Missouri River Basin, with the possibility of drought development in the Northern Rockies as well.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Missouri River Basin | December 19, 2023

Drought & Dryness Categories
Value Map Hex Color % Area Description
D0 – Abnormally Dry #ffff00 26.4 Abnormally Dry Abnormally Dry (D0) indicates a region that is going into or coming out of drought. View typical impacts by state.
D1 – Moderate Drought #fcd37f 17.8 Moderate Drought Moderate Drought (D1) is the first of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D2 – Severe Drought #ffaa00 12.6 Severe Drought Severe Drought (D2) is the second of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D3 – Extreme Drought #e60000 4.2 Extreme Drought Extreme Drought (D3) is the third of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D4 – Exceptional Drought #730000 0.25 Exceptional Drought Exceptional Drought (D4) is the most intense drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
Total Area in Drought (D1–D4) dmtotal 34.85 Total Area in Drought (D1–D4) Percent area of the states in the Missouri River Basin that is currently in drought (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Main Stats
35%
of the area within Missouri River Basin states are in drought (D1-D4)
26%
of the area within Missouri River Basin states are Abnormally Dry (D0)
11%
of Nebraska remains in Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3-D4)

Current Conditions for the Missouri River Basin

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 35% of the area within Missouri River Basin states are in drought. The most intense conditions are in eastern Nebraska, where Exceptional Drought (D4) has persisted in some areas since late spring 2023.
  • A large portion of the basin remains relatively drought free—primarily across eastern Colorado, western Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, eastern Montana, and Wyoming. Some of these areas have seen drought improve over the fall season (Figure 1).
  • Precipitation totals have been mixed across the Missouri River Basin over the last 90 days, with below-normal precipitation across much of Colorado, southern Wyoming, western Kansas, and portions of Nebraska (including eastern Nebraska where the worst drought conditions exist), Iowa, and Missouri (Figure 2).
  • While early in the season, snowfall has been below normal across the Missouri River Basin so far this winter (Figure 3). According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), snowfall in the Missouri River Basin is only 67% of normal.

Figure 1. 13-Week U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map (Since September 19, 2023)

Key Takeaway: The states within the Missouri River Basin have seen some drought areas improve over the fall season. Areas with drought improvement include northern Montana, northern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, central Nebraska, and portions of Missouri, northwest Iowa, and Minnesota.

Parts of eastern Kansas, central Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana have seen one to three category improvement on the U.S. Drought Monitor over the last 13 weeks (since September 19, 2023). Portions of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa saw no change in drought conditions over the last 13 weeks.
 13-week U.S. Drought Monitor change map (since September 19, 2023), showing where drought has improved (blue to green), is unchanged (gray), or has worsened (yellow to orange). Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Figure 2. 90-Day Percent of Normal Precipitation (September 21–December 19, 2023)

Key Takeaway: Precipitation totals were mixed across the Missouri River Basin over the last 90 days, since early fall. Below-normal precipitation was widespread across Colorado, as well as portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Iowa, and Missouri.

Portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri have received only 5 to 50% of their normal precipitation over the last 90 days (since September 21, 2023). Other areas, including northern Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, have received above-normal precipitation (130%-300% of normal).
90-day percent of normal precipitation across the Missouri River Basin since September 21, 2023. The colors represent the deficit of precipitation compared to normal (as a percentage), with orange to red values below normal, yellow and light green near normal, and dark green to purple above normal. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center ACIS Maps.

Figure 3. Percent of Normal Snowfall from November 1–December 20, 2023

Key Takeaway: Snowfall has been below normal so far this season across the majority of the Missouri River Basin, particularly across Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota. Portions of Kansas have received above-normal snowfall during an event in late November.

Snowfall since November 1, 2023 is only 2%-25% of normal across much of South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, and eastern Nebraska. Portions of Kansas have received 200%-400% of normal snowfall so far this season.
Percent of normal snowfall across the Missouri River Basin since November 1, 2023. The colors represent the percent of normal precipitation, with yellow to red values below normal and green to blue and purple values above normal. Source: Midwestern Regional Climate Center Cli-MATE.

Missouri River Basin Drought Impacts

  • Streamflow is below normal across the areas in drought, most notably portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and portions of Missouri (Figure 4).Soil moisture is adequate across much of the region, with the exception of portions of Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
  • While vegetation impacts from drought are not prominent this time of year, drought has had an impact on some vegetation, including Christmas trees. Christmas tree farms in Nebraska and Missouri report losing seedlings this year due to the dry conditions. Reduced moisture has also been an issue for winter wheat in portions of Kansas and Missouri. 
  • Municipal water supply has been negatively affected by drought in Iowa and Missouri. In late October, Osceola, Iowa said they have only about 200 days’ worth of water left after enduring three years of drought. After reconfiguring a water intake, the city now has about 330 days' worth of water. Other cities in Iowa have had to explore alternative water sources or enforce water conservation measures.
  • Surface water is low across Kansas, eastern Nebraska, and portions of Missouri, including livestock ponds. Pasture conditions are very poor across these areas as well, and supplemental feed and water are required to maintain livestock conditions (Figure 5).
  • Low surface water and lack of snowfall and ice are also affecting recreation and tourism for boating and winter-related activities like ice fishing.

Report your local drought impacts through a Condition Monitoring Observer Report:

Report Impacts

Figure 4. Current Streamflow Conditions (Valid December 20, 2023)

Key Takeaway: Persistent drought conditions this fall have resulted in below-normal streamflow across portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and portions of Missouri. 

Current streamflow, as of December 20, 2023, are below normal across portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and portions of Missouri. Other areas in the Basin have near-normal to above-normal streamflow.
Current streamflow for the southern half of the Missouri River Basin, compared to historical conditions, valid December 20, 2023. Orange and red colors indicate below-normal streamflows, green indicates normal streamflows, and blue colors indicate above-normal streamflows. Source: USGS. Map from Drought.gov.

Figure 5. Stock Pond in Miller County, Missouri on December 8, 2023

Key Takeaway: Surface water is very low across portions of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, including this stock pond in Miller County, Missouri.
 

 A photo of a pond with just about a foot left over water, taken in Miller County, Missouri on December 8, 2023.
This photo was submitted to the Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR) on December 8, 2023 and shows a surface pond in Miller County, Missouri. Photo credit: Chuck.

Outlooks and Forecasts for the Missouri River Basin

  • January 2024 temperatures are likely to be above normal across the northern Basin, with equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation across the entire Missouri River Basin.
  • El Niño conditions have developed in the Pacific Ocean and are expected to continue. While each El Niño event is different, El Niño winters (Dec-Jan-Feb) tend to be warmer across much of the Missouri River Basin and drier in the Northern Rockies. 
  • NOAA’s winter outlook for January through March 2024 shows an increased chance of above-normal temperatures across much of the Basin. Eastern Colorado and western Kansas are likely to have near-normal temperatures, with equal chances for  above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures elsewhere (Figure 6). 
  • The January–March precipitation outlook has increased chances of below-normal precipitation in the northwestern portions of the basin, which, combined with above-normal temperatures, could mean less mountain snowfall. This would have a negative impact as snowfall during the winter in the northern Plains is critical to replenish moisture in the system for the following year. 
  • Above-normal precipitation is slightly favored in the southern part of the basin, including Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska (Figure 7). Above-normal precipitation would be helpful in these areas; however, drought improvement over the winter months is minimal as soils are often frozen and this limits the ability to replenish soil moisture.
  • The Seasonal Drought Outlook for the end of December through March 31, 2024 shows that drought is expected to persist across the region, with the possibility of drought development in the Northern Rockies as well (Figure 8).

Figure 6. Seasonal Temperature Outlook (January–March 2024)

Key Takeaway: Temperatures are likely to be above normal across a majority of the Missouri River Basin, particularly across Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota for the January through March 2024 time frame. Eastern Colorado and western Kansas are likely to have near-normal temperatures, with equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures elsewhere.

For January through March 2024, odds favor above-normal temperatures (33%–50% probabilities) across the majority of the Missouri River Basin. Near-normal temperatures (33%-50% probabilities) are expected in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.
 This map shows the probability (percent chance) of above-normal (red hues), near-normal (gray hues), or below-normal (blue hues) temperatures for January through March 2024. White areas indicate equal chances of above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures. Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 7. Seasonal Precipitation Outlook (January 2023–March 2024)

Key Takeaway: Below-normal precipitation is anticipated across the northern Missouri River Basin for January through March 2024. There is a slight chance for above-normal precipitation across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.

For January through March 2024, odds favor below-normal precipitation (33%–50% probabilities) across the northern Missouri River Basin. Odds favor above-normal precipitation (33%-40% probabilities) for Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska during this time frame as well.
 This map shows the probability (percent chance) of above-normal (green hues), near-normal (gray hues), or below-normal (brown hues) precipitation for January through March 2024. White areas indicate equal chances of above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 8. Seasonal Drought Outlook (Valid December 21–March 31, 2024)

Key Takeaway: Drought is expected to persist across areas in drought in the Missouri River Basin, which includes Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and northern North Dakota. Drought in the Northern Rockies is expected to persist and/or develop as well. There often isn’t much change in drought over the winter as soils are frozen and this limits the ability to replenish soil moisture.

Drought is expected to persist throughout the winter (December 21, 2023 through March 31, 2024) across areas already in drought including Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and northern North Dakota.
This Seasonal Drought Outlook map shows whether drought is predicted to develop (yellow), remain (brown), improve (gray/beige), or be removed (green) in the December 21-March 31, 2024 time frame. Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Map from Drought.gov.

Resources

Prepared By

Molly Woloszyn
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), CIRES/CU Boulder

Doug Kluck
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

Dannele Peck & Dennis Todey
USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub and Midwest Climate Hub

Audra Bruschi
NOAA/National Weather Service Central Region

Kevin Low
NOAA/Missouri Basin River Forecast Center

Gannon Rush & Rezaul Mahmood
High Plains Regional Climate Center/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Denise Gutzmer
National Drought Mitigation Center/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A special thank you to the state climate offices and National Weather Service offices in the Missouri River Basin for providing local information on drought conditions and impacts included in the webinar and in this Drought Status Update.

Special Thanks

This Drought Status Update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Missouri River Basin DEWS based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future Drought Status Updates as conditions evolve.