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Regional Drought Update Date
January 10, 2022
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Drought Status Update

Drought Update for the Intermountain West


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

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

A look back at drought in 2021.

Key Points

  • 2021 began with 45% of the Intermountain West in exceptional (D4) drought but ended without any D4 drought and only 26% of the region still in extreme (D3) drought.
  • The summer monsoon and December precipitation greatly improved drought conditions west of the Continental Divide.
  • Extreme (D3) drought expanded over eastern Colorado in November, including the latest recorded snowfall on record, leading to the catastrophic fires in Boulder County in late December.
  • Drought is expected to continue into spring in much of the region.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Intermountain West | January 4, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System region with data valid for January 4, 2022. The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country.

Extreme (D3) drought persists within every state in the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System.

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
5%
of Arizona is in Extreme (D3) Drought
22%
of Colorado is in Extreme (D3) Drought
21%
of New Mexico is in Extreme (D3) Drought
34%
of Utah is in Extreme (D3) Drought
11%
of Wyoming is in Extreme (D3) Drought

Current Drought Conditions and Outlook

U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions 

  • On December 7, the remaining patches of exceptional (D4) drought was removed from the region. 
  • 18% of the region is still experiencing extreme (D3) drought.
  • Extreme (D3) drought conditions have been in place in this region since May 2020.
  • Moderate (D1) or worse drought has been in the region since August 2009.

Forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

3-Month Outlook for Winter (January–March 2022)

  • Odds favor above-normal temperatures for the southern U.S., including New Mexico and parts of Arizona.
  • Odds favor below-normal precipitation for the southwestern U.S.

January–March Temperature Outlook 

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, showing the probability of exceeding the median temperature from January to March 2022. Odds favor above normal temperatures for the southern US, including New Mexico and parts of Arizona.
Three-month temperature outlook, showing the probability of above-normal or below-normal conditions during January–March 2022. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

January–March Precipitation Outlook 

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook, showing the probability of exceeding the median precipitation from January to March 2022. Odds favor below normal precipitation for the southwestern U.S.
Three-month precipitation outlook, showing the probability of above-normal or below-normal conditions during January–March 2022. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Seasonal Drought Outlook

  • Drought is expected to continue for the Intermountain West through spring.
  • The Climate Prediction Center's 3-month drought outlook shows drought remaining but improving for western Wyoming and northern Utah. 

U.S. Drought Outlook: January 1–March 31, 2022

A map of the southwestern United States showing the probability drought conditions persisting, improving, or developing from January 1 to March 31, 2022. Current drought conditions over the western U.S. are forecast to persist.
U.S. seasonal drought outlook for October 21, 2021 to January 31, 2022, showing the likelihood that drought will remain, improve, worsen, or develop. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Recap: 2021 Drought in the Intermountain West

Exceptional Drought in Winter in Spring 2021

  • 2021 began with 45% of the Intermountain West in exceptional (D4) drought.
    • Rainfall across the Intermountain West region was the second lowest on record for 2020, and the lowest since 1956.
  • Some large mountain snow totals in February provided slight improvement, but it melted quickly and drought continued through spring

Animation: 2021 U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions in the Intermountain West

Animated GIF of a time series and map of the Intermountain West, showing the progression of drought conditions from the beginning to the end of 2021, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Animation showing the progression of drought across the Intermountain West in 2021, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Explore more historical drought conditions.

U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map: 2021

 A map of  the Intermountain West showing the change in the U.S. Drought Monitor from December 29, 2020 to December 28, 2021. Much of the Intermountain West saw drought improvement, with a 2 to 4-class improvement in much of Arizona. Northwestern Wyoming saw 1-4 class degradation over 2021.
U.S. Drought Monitor 12-month change map for 2021, showing drought category improvements and degradations from December 29, 2020 to December 28, 2021. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

The 2021 Southwest Monsoon

  • The largest improvement to drought conditions came across Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Utah and Colorado when a record-setting monsoon brought nearly a foot of rain to the Southwest. 
  • In 2021, Arizona measured its second wettest July on record, the wettest since 1919.
  • Tucson Airport exceeded one foot of rainfall for the monsoon season.

Southeast Arizona Monsoon Rainfall Totals & Rankings

Chart showing rainfall totals and historical rankings for monsoon season 2021, for locations across southeast Arizona. The locations and rainfall totals (in inches) are: Tucson Airport, 12.79; Nogales Airport, 15.65; Safford Airport, 7.38; Sierra Vista, 11.27; Oracle, 14.0; Willcox, 8.04; Picacho Peak, 11.4; and Ajo, 7.6
2021 monsoon rainfall total and historical rankings across southeast Arizona. Source: National Weather Service Tucson Weather Forecast Office. View more monsoon rainfall totals.

Monsoon Rainfall: June 15–September 30, 2021

Accumulated rainfall totals from 15 June to 30 September 2021 for Arizona locations. Monsoon 2021 rainfall was the wettest on record for Payson (7.65 inches above normal) and the Show Low Airport (5.47 inches above normal).
Accumulated rainfall totals from June 15 to September 30, 2021 for Arizona locations. Source: National Weather Service Flagstaff.

Monsoon Rainfall for Tucson Airport

: Accumulated rainfall since 15 June 2021 at Tucson, Arizona compared with all historical years. This monsoon season is the third wettest on record so far.
Accumulated rainfall for the monsoon seasons at Tucson Airport. Courtesy of the National Weather Service Tucson Weather Forecast Office.

Hydrologic Drought Continues: Lake Mead Tier 1 Water Restrictions

Map of the Intermountain West showing Bureau of Reclamation reservoir storage. As of 4 January 2022, Lake mead is at 57% of total capacity. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at the lowest level in over 30 years.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reservoir storage as of January 4, 2022. Source: USBR Reservoir Storage Dashboard.

A Snowy December Brought More Relief to the Drought-Stricken West

  • Autumn 2021 ended with a warm and dry November for much of the West, leaving little snowpack in the mountains to start the climatological winter in December.
  • Weather patterns changed in December, including an atmospheric river that brought plenty of snow to the western Rocky Mountains and strong frontal patterns that produced snow and rain across most western states, including Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
From December 4, 2021 to January 4, 2022 Snow Water Equivalent levels increased from below 50% of normal to above 150% of normal for the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades, and the mountains of southern Utah and northern Arizona.
Snow water equivalent for the western U.S. for December 4, 2021 (left) and January 4, 2022 (right). Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service–National Water and Climate Center.

Fire and Late Snow: Drought Hits Hard East of the Rockies

EDDI Changes from April 6–October 3 to July 5–December 30

Map of Colorado showing the change in Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) for 2 overlapping 6-month periods: July 5–December 30 vs. April 6–October 3, 2021.
This map shows the change in NOAA's Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) for two overlapping 6-month periods: July 5–December 30, 2021 versus April 6–October 3, 2021. Evaporative demand—how "thirsty" the atmosphere is for moisture—in the area of the Marshall Fire was at record-high levels at the end of December 2021 as a result of extreme warmth and dryness over the fall. Image by Mike Hobbins, NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Laboratory. Source: Climate.gov.

For More Information

More local information is available from the following resources:

In Case You Missed It

Upcoming Events

Prepared By

Joel Lisonbee
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

Erin Saffell
Arizona State Climatologist/Arizona State University

Peter Goble
Colorado Climate Center/Colorado State University

Jon Meyer
Utah Climate Center/Utah State University

Tony Bergantino
Water Resources Data System – Wyoming State Climate Office

Erin Boyle
Service Hydrologist, National Weather Service, Tucson, Arizona

Greg Heavener
Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service, Pueblo, Colorado

Special Thanks

This drought status update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the offices of the state climatologist for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The purpose of the update is to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Intermountain West based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.