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Regional Drought Update Date
March 18, 2022
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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 drought status updates as conditions evolve.

Significant Drought Expected to Continue into 2022 Growing Season.

This drought status update is based on information provided in the March 17 North Central Climate and Drought Outlook Webinar (view recording for more details), as well as the NOAA Climate Prediction Center Spring 2022 Outlook.

 

Key Points

  • Drought continues to impact a majority of the Missouri River Basin following difficult drought conditions and impacts the past two years. 79% of the basin is currently in at least moderate drought (D1), with 52% in severe drought (D2) and 18% in extreme drought (D3).
  • Some of the hardest hit areas last year in the Northern Plains (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) have seen minor improvement over winter, but not enough to alleviate drought concerns for this spring and the upcoming growing season. 
  • Central Plains states (eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska) have seen drought intensify since the start of the water year (October 1, 2021), causing significant wildland fire issues recently and raising concerns for the upcoming growing season.
  • Drought conditions have reduced the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System storage. As a result, drought conservation measures were implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Navigation flow support will be at minimum service to start the 2022 navigation season, which means an 8-foot deep navigation channel instead of a 9-foot deep channel.
  • The Missouri River Basin needs periodic and regular above-normal precipitation in order to avoid further drought deterioration. While spring is typically the wettest time of the year for the basin, the April through June precipitation and temperature outlooks are leaning towards drier and warmer conditions for a majority of the basin, which will likely lead to drought persistence and potentially intensification
  • Persistent drought issues will likely lead to increased wildland fire risk, limited water supply for agriculture and livestock, crop damage and loss, water quality issues, and limitations to water supply and navigation along the Missouri River.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions | March 15, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Missouri River Basin Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) region with data valid for March 15, 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. 

79% of the Missouri River Basin is in drought (D1–D4), with 18% in extreme (D3) drought.

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the National Weather Service Central Region with data valid for March 15, 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. 

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
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
79%
of the Missouri River Basin is in drought (D1–D4)
92%
of the Missouri River Basin is abnormally dry or worse (D0–D4)
50%
or more of the basin has been in drought since September 2020

Current Conditions

  • Drought continues to impact a majority of the Missouri River Basin (MRB) following difficult drought conditions and impacts the past two years. 79% of the basin is currently in at least moderate drought (D1), with 52% in severe drought (D2) and 18% in extreme drought (D3).
  • Winter precipitation was below normal across much of the basin, particularly across Kansas and Nebraska (Figure 1), with precipitation deficits around 1–6 inches. Snowfall was below normal across the MRB too, particularly across South Dakota and Nebraska (Figure 2). Snowpack in the Plains and mountains has been below normal, which is especially detrimental to the Northern Plains states that rely upon a seasonal snowpack.
  • The drier conditions have led to drought development or intensification in the Central Plains, whereas other areas in drought have seen minor improvement but not enough to alleviate concerns. 
  • In addition, winter precipitation is particularly important for recharging soils, ponds, baseflows, and reservoirs in the colder winter months. Therefore, the lack of precipitation this winter and early spring means minimal recharge in the basin.

Figure 1. County Precipitation Ranks (December 2021-February 2022)

County precipitation ranks for December 2021-February 2022 based upon the 1895-2022 historical record. Several counties in Nebraska and Kansas saw their record driest December-February.
County precipitation ranks for December 2021 to February 2022 based upon the 1895–2022 historical record. Brown colors represent counties with below-average precipitation (darkest brown is record driest), white represents near average, and teal colors represent above average (dark teal is record wettest). Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Figure 2. Accumulated Snowfall Percent of Normal (August 1, 2021–March 17, 2022)

Snowfall as a percent of 1991-2020 normals across the North Central U.S. from August 1, 2021 to March 17, 2022.
Accumulated snowfall as a percent of the 1991–2020 normal from August 1, 2021 to March 17, 2022. Source: Midwest Regional Climate Center cli-MATE maps.

Impacts

  • Soils are very dry from the Central Plains through portions of Iowa and Missouri. Soil moisture in eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming is less than the 5th percentile (Figure 3).
  • Streamflow on the Missouri River is historically low. The highest stage recorded on the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska in 2021 was the lowest annual peak since 1952 (Figure 4).
  • Drought conditions have reduced the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System storage. As a result, drought conservation measures such as minimum winter releases of 12,000 cfs were implemented. Based on the March 15 System storage check, navigation flow support will be at minimum service to start the 2022 navigation season, which means an 8-foot deep navigation channel instead of a 9-foot deep navigation channel under full service flow support.
  • The lack of precipitation and overall moisture has led to increased wildland fires in Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The Cottonwood Complex Fire near Hutchinson, Kansas in early March led to one fatality, destroyed 35 homes and 110 vehicles, and burned 12,000 acres. 
  • There are concerns of potentially toxic levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) in surface water for livestock in North Dakota after two years of drought. In South Dakota and Nebraska, there are major concerns about feed and water supply this spring and summer for livestock. 
  • In agriculture, the dry conditions have inhibited growth of and damaged winter wheat and cover crops in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 

Report your drought impacts through the Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR):

Submit Local Drought Impacts

Figure 3. Past Month Top 1-Meter Soil Moisture Percentile (Valid March 13, 2022)

Map of the contiguous U.S. showing the top 1-meter soil moisture percentile for the past month, through March 13, 2022. Soil moisture in eastern CO, KS, NE, and WY are less than the 5th percentile.
The past week top 1-meter soil moisture percentile from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS)’s VIC model, valid on March 13, 2022. White represents areas with near-normal conditions, yellow to red represent areas with below-normal anomalies, and blue shades represent areas that have above-normal anomalies. Source: NASA.

Figure 4: Streamflow Peak Values on the Missouri River at Omaha (1952–Present)

The highest stage recorded on the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska in 2021 was the lowest annual peak since 1952.
Calendar year crests on the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska from 1952 to present. The blue dots represent the peak value for each calendar year. Data Source: USGS. Graphic courtesy of David Pearson (NWS Omaha).

Outlooks and Potential Impacts

  • The Missouri River Basin needs periodic and regular above-average precipitation in order to avoid further drought deterioration. While spring is typically the wettest time of the year for the basin, the April through June precipitation outlook is leaning towards drier-than-normal conditions for a majority of the basin (Figure 5). The April–June temperature outlook is leaning towards warmer-than-normal conditions as well, which could exacerbate the issues by removing additional moisture from the ground.
  • This increased potential for drier and warmer conditions will likely lead to drought persistence and potentially intensification across the entire basin, with the potential for drought development in eastern Kansas (Figure 6).
  • The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April 2022 shows above-normal chances for significant wildland fire across eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and southeast Wyoming (Figure 7). These conditions will likely last until vegetation begins to grow, and/or precipitation falls.
  • Other potential spring and summer impacts include limited water supply for agriculture and livestock, crop damage and loss, water quality issues, limitations to water supply and navigation along the Missouri River and its tributaries, and recreation impacts from low water at marinas and boat launches.

Figure 5. Seasonal Precipitation Outlook for April–June 2022

The April through June precipitation outlook is leaning towards drier-than-normal conditions for a majority of the Missouri River Basin.
Seasonal precipitation outlook for April–June 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.

Figure 6. U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for March 17–June 30, 2022

3-month drought outlook for the Missouri River Basin. Drought is expected to persist or intensify across the entire basin, with the potential for drought development in eastern Kansas.
Seasonal drought outlook for March 17–June 30, 2022, showing the probability that drought will persist, improve, or develop. 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 7. Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April 2022

The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April 2022 shows above-normal chances for significant wildland fire across eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and southeast Wyoming.
Significant wildland fire potential outlook for April 2022. Above-normal significant wildfire potential (red) indicates a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildland fires will occur. These assessments are designed to inform decision makers for proactive wildland fire management, thus better protecting lives and property, reducing firefighting costs and improving firefighting efficiency. Source: Predictive Services, National Interagency Fire Center.

For More Information

Prepared By

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

Doug Kluck
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

Dennis Todey
USDA Midwest Climate Hub

Trent Ford (Webinar Presenter)
University of Illinois-Illinois State Water Survey

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 Missouri River Basin based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.