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Regional Drought Update Date
April 28, 2022
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Missouri River Basin


DEWS Regions:
Watersheds
Update Status:

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

Drought Likely to Persist and Potentially Expand in Summer

 

Key Points

  • Drought continues across the Missouri River Basin, with moderate to extreme drought (D1–D3) impacting Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. 
  • Drought intensification has been most significant this past month across the Central Plains of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where the U.S. Drought Monitor has worsened by one or two categories. 
  • The wind speeds have been stronger than normal this spring, and this, combined with the dry conditions, has resulted in significant and continuous wildfire issues across Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
  • Other drought impacts include poor to very poor winter wheat conditions, limited water availability for livestock, poor rangeland conditions, and below-normal inflow on the mainstem of the Missouri River, resulting in the implementation of water conservation measures by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 
  • Despite potential for short-term relief in some areas, seasonal outlooks are calling for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for May through July across a majority of the Missouri River Basin. As a result, drought is likely to persist across existing areas, and will likely expand further east into western portions of Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.
  • Current drought impacts are likely to persist, and potentially intensify, over the coming months. This includes elevated wildfire risk, limited water availability and feed for livestock, inadequate moisture for crop growth, and continuation of water conservation efforts along the Missouri River and tributaries.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions | April 26, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Missouri River Basin Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) region with data valid for April 26, 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
Main Stats
60%
of the Missouri River Basin is in drought (D1–D4)
41%
Missouri River Basin is in severe (D2) drought or worse
14%
Missouri River Basin is in extreme (D3) drought or worse

Current Conditions

  • Drought continues across the Missouri River Basin, with moderate to extreme drought (D1–D3) impacting Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Extreme drought (D3) currently covers 39% of Montana, 22% of Nebraska, 20% of Kansas, 18% of Wyoming, and 4% of South Dakota and Colorado.
  • Since March 1, drought intensification has been most significant in the Central Plains across Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota where the U.S. Drought Monitor has worsened by one or two categories (Figure 1).
  • The worsening conditions recently have been driven by below-normal precipitation across eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and southern South Dakota over the last 30 days, exacerbating existing dry conditions. In these areas, precipitation has ranged from only 5%–50% of normal (Figure 2). Overall, temperatures have been near- to below-normal across the basin over the last 30 days. 
  • A major winter storm the week of April 11 brought significant snowfall to North Dakota and portions of Montana. In North Dakota, there was enough moisture to help alleviate some drought issues, but this was not the case in Montana. However, Montana has received some precipitation this past week that has improved conditions. Cooler temperatures have also kept drought from worsening in many areas as well.
  • Soil moisture is significantly below normal across Nebraska and Kansas, as well as portions of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming (Figure 3). Limited soil moisture has contributed to poor winter wheat condition and increased the occurrence of wildfires. In addition, some farmers are waiting to plant because the soil is too dry, and some are irrigating to wet the soils enough in order to plant.
  • Wind speeds have been unusually high recently as well, which has led to increased wildfire issues. Winds are typically stronger in the spring compared to other times of the year, but the central U.S. experienced winds in March that were well above normal (Figure 4).

Figure 1. U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map Since March 1, 2022

From March 1 to April 26, U.S. Drought Monitor conditions have worsened by 1 to 2 categories across Kansa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
8-week U.S. Drought Monitor change map, showing where drought has improved, remained the same, or worsened since March 1, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Figure 2. Percent of Normal Precipitation (March 29–April 27, 2022)

From March 29 to April 27, precipitation across eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and southern South Dakota has been between 5%-50% of normal.
Percent of normal precipitation across the Missouri River Basin from March 29–April 27, 2022. 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.

Figure 3. Past Month Top 1-Meter Soil Moisture Percentile (Valid April 23, 2022)

Map of the contiguous U.S. showing the top 1-meter soil moisture percentile for the past month, through April 23, 2022.  Soil moisture is well below normal in Kansas and Nebraska, as well as parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.
The past week top 1-meter soil moisture percentile from the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS)’s VIC model, valid on April 23, 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. 10-Meter Wind Speed Anomaly for March 2022

10- meter wind speed anomalies (in meters per second) for March 2022 compared to the 1991–2020 normal.
10-meter (31 feet) wind speed compared to the 1991–2020 normal for March 2022. 1 meter/second is equivalent to 2.2 miles per hour. Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Impacts

  • Reservoir inflows in the Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa were well-below average in March due to dry soil conditions and well-below normal precipitation across the basin. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are implementing water conservation measures, such as minimum water releases and reduced flow support for navigation. 
  • The dry and windy conditions have led to numerous destructive, and some fatal, wildfires across the Central Plains, particularly across Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Fires in southwest Nebraska in early April resulted in two deaths, numerous firefighter injuries, and the destruction of several dozen homes or structures.
  • A “Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory” was issued on April 11 for central Kansas and Nebraska, as critically dry conditions and cooler conditions have delayed green-up and have created a volatile landscape for extreme fire behavior in these areas. The advisory lasts through April 28.
  • The dry conditions have contributed to poor winter wheat conditions across the Plains states, with 47% rated poor or very poor in Colorado, 41% in Montana, 36% in Kansas, 32% in Nebraska, and 26% in South Dakota (Figure 5). Recent precipitation in Montana has helped ease concerns around winter wheat in the state, and also provided some much-needed moisture for planting.
  • Water and feed for livestock are extremely limited across the region. In Wyoming, springs and ponds are drying up, and livestock are traveling a mile or two in order to find water. Similar issues are being felt across Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota as well. Grasses and forage for livestock will not grow well without moisture, and widespread drought will limit overall access to hay. According to a reporter in Weston County, Wyoming, these are the worst range conditions in over 55 years of livestock production.
  • Residents in Omaha, Lincoln, and Fremont, Nebraska are being encouraged to conserve water as drought persists in their area, affecting the flow of the Platte River.

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

Submit Local Drought Impacts

Figure 5. Winter Wheat Conditions (As of April 24, 2022)

Winter wheat conditions across the U.S. as of April 24, 2022. Winter wheat conditions are poor to very poor across many Great Plains states.
Winter wheat conditions rated as poor to very poor across the United States. The number on top represents the current percentage of winter wheat rated poor to very poor, with the change from last week in the brackets below. Source: USDA.

Outlook and Potential Impacts

  • The short-term precipitation outlook from NOAA for May 5–11 shows the potential for above-normal precipitation across northern portions of the basin, with near-normal precipitation elsewhere (Figure 6). 
  • NOAA is also forecasting a slight risk for high winds across the central Plains from May 5–8, which will likely increase the risk for wildfire during this time; however, the potential for near-normal precipitation could help alleviate some concerns.
  • Moving into May, outlooks are not optimistic for portions of the Central Plains, particularly across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. Precipitation is likely to be below-normal across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, with a greater chance for above-normal temperatures as well. In contrast, there are greater chances for above-normal precipitation in eastern Montana and North Dakota, which could bring some relief for these areas (Figure 7). 
  • The seasonal precipitation and temperature outlooks for May through July 2022 show a greater chance for drier and hotter conditions across much of the Missouri River Basin. As a result, the 3-month Seasonal Drought Outlook ending July 31, 2022 is forecasting drought persistence across the areas currently in drought, with potential drought development across eastern portions of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, as well as into Iowa, southern Minnesota, and northern Missouri (Figure 8). 
  • Despite some potential for short-term relief, a hot and dry outlook for May–July 2022 is cause for concern, particularly for those areas that have recently seen an intensification in drought conditions (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota). In addition, May and June are typically the wettest times of year for many areas in the Plains. Even if areas do get near-normal rainfall, current moisture deficits will likely overwhelm recovery efforts.
  • Significant wildfire potential is expected to be above-normal throughout the summer, particularly in July across a majority of the basin (Figure 9).
  • Livestock producers are particularly concerned about the upcoming season, as water and feed sources are already limited. Soil moisture is limited in many places across the basin, and the outlook for continued dry conditions will likely mean inadequate moisture for crop growth unless irrigation is used.

Figure 6. Precipitation Outlook for May 5–11, 2022

The 8-14 day precipitation outlook for May 5–11, 2022 favors below-normal precipitation for much of Colorado and Minnesota and above-normal conditions for Montana, northern and western Wyoming, and the western Dakotas.
8–14 day precipitation outlook for May 5–11, 2022. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation, brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation, and gray represents areas with a greater chance for near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 7. Monthly Precipitation Outlook for May 2022

The May 2022 precipitation outlook favors above-normal precipitation for eastern Montana and North Dakota, with below-normal conditions across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Monthly precipitation outlook for May 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 8. U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook for April 21–July 31, 2022

3-month drought outlook for the Missouri River Basin. From April 21 to July 31, drought is expected to persist or develop across much of the Missouri River Basin.
Seasonal drought outlook for April 21–July 31, 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 9. Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July 2022

The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July 2022 shows above-normal chances for significant wildland fires across a majority of the basin.
Significant wildland fire potential outlook for July 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

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

Kevin Low
NOAA/National Weather Service Missouri Basin River Forecast Center

Audra Bruschi & Ray Wolf
NOAA/National Weather Service Central Region

Rezaul Mahmood & Gannon Rush
High Plains Regional Climate Center

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.