Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Regional Drought Update Date
March 26, 2021
Site Section
Drought Status Update

Drought Update for the Southern Plains DEWS


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

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

Drought Worsens for Southern Texas with Dry Conditions Forecasted to Persist Through Spring.

Key Points

  • Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4) drought conditions are in place for western Texas, southern Texas, and most of New Mexico.
  • Moderate (D1) to Severe (D2) drought conditions have developed through central Texas and southern Oklahoma.
  • Precipitation, temperature, and drought condition forecasts all suggest an expansion and intensification of drought conditions is likely over the next three months. 
  • May and June are typically the wettest months of the year in the Southern Plains, and rainfall in these months are critical for productive agriculture. The latest seasonal outlook for April–June favors above-normal temperatures and slightly favors below-normal precipitation for the season, with near-average rainfall being the next most likely outcome. If this forecast verifies, agriculture in the region will be impacted by warm and dry conditions.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Southern Plains | March 23, 2021

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. 

Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) drought persists across western parts of Texas (20% of the state), and most of New Mexico (80% of the state).

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 #ff6600 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
67.92%
of Texas is in Moderate (D1) to Exceptional Drought (D4)
100%
of New Mexico is in Moderate (D1) to Exceptional Drought (D4)
11.95%
of Kansas is in Moderate (D1) to Severe (D2) Drought
11.54%
of Oklahoma is in Moderate (D1) to Extreme (D3) Drought

Recent and Current Conditions

2021 So Far

  • Across the region, January precipitation was near normal while February precipitation was nearly half of the long-term average for Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
  • Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are approaching what are typically the wettest months of the year and a critical point in the growing season.

Kansas Average Monthly Temperature and Rainfall

Graph showing average Kansas temperature and precipitation each month. Both temperature and precipitation were above average for January but February temperatures were a few degrees cooler than average and precipitation was less than half the long-term average. May and June are the wettest months of the year for Kansas.
State-wide average monthly temperature and precipitation for Kansas, including the 30-year average for all months with January and February 2021 state-wide values. Source: Southern Regional Climate Center Charts.

Oklahoma Average Monthly Temperature and Rainfall

Graph showing average Oklahoma temperature and precipitation each month. Both temperature and precipitation were above average for January but February temperatures were a few degrees cooler than average and precipitation was nearly half the long-term average. May and June are the wettest months of the year for Oklahoma.
State-wide average monthly temperature and precipitation for Oklahoma, including the 30-year average for all months with January and February 2021 state-wide values. Source: Southern Regional Climate Center Charts.

Texas Average Monthly Temperature and Rainfall

Graph showing average Texas temperature and precipitation each month.   Both temperature and precipitation was near average for January but February temperatures were a few degrees cooler than average and precipitation was nearly half the long-term average. May and June are the wettest months of the year for Texas.
State-wide average monthly temperature and precipitation for Texas, including the 30-year average for all months with January and February 2021 state-wide values. Source: Southern Regional Climate Center Charts.

New Mexico Average Monthly Temperature and Rainfall

Graph showing average New Mexico temperature and precipitation each month. Both temperature and precipitation was near average for January but February temperatures were a few degrees cooler than average and precipitation was nearly half the long-term average.
State-wide average monthly temperature and precipitation for New Mexico, including the 30-year average for all months with January and February 2021 state-wide values. Source: Southern Regional Climate Center Charts.

U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions

  • Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) drought persists across western parts of Texas (20% of the state), and most of New Mexico (80% of the state).
  • Exceptional (D4) drought conditions have been in place in west Texas since August 2020.
  • Moderate (D1) to Severe (D2) drought developed across parts of southern, central, and eastern Texas in February and intensified in early March.

U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map: Southern Plains

1-month U.S. Drought Monitor change map for the Southern Plains, showing the drought category changes from February 23, 2021 to March 23, 2021.
U.S. Drought Monitor 1-month change map for the Southern Plains, showing where drought has improved, worsened, or stayed the same from February 23 to March 23, 2021. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor.

March Precipitation

  • A major rain storm crossed western Kansas and Oklahoma on March 14–19. 
    • 2+ inches of rainfall for most of Kansas and northern Oklahoma.
    • 4+ inches rainfall for southeast Kansas.
  • March-to-date has not had any measurable precipitation over far western Texas and less than 0.1 inches along most of the southern border.

30-Day Precipitation Conditions for the Southern Plains

30-day precipitation totals (in inches) for the Southern Plains as of March 24, 2021.

30-day percent of normal precipitation for the Southern Plains. Valid March 24, 2021.
Top: 30-day precipitation totals through March 24, 2021. Bottom: 30-day percent of normal precipitation through March 24, 2021. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center/ACIS.

Evaporative Drought Demand Index (EDDI)

4-Week EDDI for March 20, 2021

  • EDDI values have been near normal across the Southern Plains over the past month.
  • Far western Texas has experienced high evaporation demand for this time of year.
Map of the continental U.S. showing the 4-week averaged Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) as of March 20, 2021. Areas of average to low EDDI  cover most the northwest, including northern California. This area extends to northern Nevada, northern Utah Wyoming and northern Colorado. Areas of high EDDI cover southern California, Arizona and New Mexico and also the Great Lakes region.
1-month Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI), valid March 20, 2021. The EDDI is an experimental drought monitoring tool that examines how anomalous the atmospheric evaporative demand (E0; also known as "the thirst of the atmosphere") is for a given location. Source: NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratories/Physical Sciences Laboratory.

Seasonal Outlooks: April–June 2021

Temperature Outlook

For April–June, there is a greater chance for above-normal temperatures across the Southern Plains.

3-month temperature outlook for the U.S. showing the probability of exceeding the median temperature for the months of April through June 2021. dds favor below normal temperatures for the Pacifc northwest while odds favor above normal temperatures for the rest of the country with especially high odds for above normal temperatures for New Mexico and Texas.
Three-month temperature outlook for April–June 2021, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Valid March 18, 2021. Source: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

Precipitation Outlook

The Climate Prediction Center's precipitation outlook shows that below-average rainfall is the most likely outcome for April–June across the Southern Plains. 

3-month precipitation outlook for the U.S. showing the probability of exceeding the median precipitation for the months of April through June 2021. Odds favor below normal precipitation for most of the Southern Plains and western US while odds favor above normal precipitation for the northwest and the Great Lakes regions.
Three-month precipitation outlook for April–June 2021, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Valid March 18, 2021. Source: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

Drought Outlook

  • Should the seasonal precipitation and temperature outlooks verify with below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures occurring during a typically wetter and critical juncture in the growing season, there could be significant impacts to agriculture in the region. 
  • With encroaching drought conditions and the precipitation outlook favoring below-normal rainfall for the season, drought conditions are forecast to continue at least through June for western and central Texas, and drought development across the rest of the Southern Plains is likely.
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, showing the probability drought conditions persisting, improving, or developing March 18 through June 30 2021. Current drought conditions over the western US are forecast to persist while drought development is likely for parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida
U.S. seasonal drought outlook for March 18–June 30, 2021, showing the probability that drought will persist, improve, or develop. Source: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

Climate Patterns

  • NOAA’s El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) alert system status is currently a La Niña advisory with moderate, but waning, La Niña conditions over the equatorial Pacific. 
  • There is a ~60% chance of a transition from La Niña to ENSO-Neutral during the Northern Hemisphere spring 2021 (April–June). 
  • Historically, much of the southwest U.S., including western Texas, has experienced continued dryness into spring during La Niña conditions, while the rest of the region does not experience a strong influence from the weakening La Niña conditions.

April–June Precipitation During La Niña: Increased Risk of Wet or Dry Extremes

Risk of wet or dry extremes from the historical composite of April through June La Ninas for the continental US. Extreme dry conditions are likely for much of the Southwest and Florida.
April-May-June (AMJ) rainfall pattern when averaged over historical La Niña events. Source: NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratories/Physical Sciences Laboratory.
  • For more information, please check out the NOAA ENSO blog.
  • ENSO forecasts from the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society show ENSO-neutral conditions returning within the coming months. Earlier forecasts showed an increased likelihood of La Niña returning in autumn 2021, but more recent forecasts have lowered this likelihood, although it cannot be ruled out yet. 

State-Based Conditions and Impacts

Texas

For a point very near Dallas, Texas, the average rainfall for April through June is 12.32 inches. This year there is a 23% chance of rainfall that is above normal, a 33% chance of rainfall that is near normal, and a 44% chance of rainfall that is below normal.
April–June odds of receiving either below-normal, near-normal, or above-normal precipitation for Dallas, TX. The long-term average rainfall for April–June is 12.32 inches.
  • Drought (D3 and D4) has generally persisted across western Texas and has developed or worsened across portions of southern, central, and eastern Texas so far in 2021.
  • February state-wide average precipitation was nearly half of the long-term average for the month.
  • So far in March, the southern border has experienced less than 25% of normal March monthly precipitation. Drought conditions in southern Texas and western Texas are worsening. 
  • April–June are usually the wetter months of the year, for Texas, and rainfall over these months is critical for water availability throughout the rest of the year. The latest precipitation outlook for April–June shows a 40%–50% chance of below-normal precipitation for these months (leaving a 50%–60% chance of near-normal or above-normal conditions). 

Oklahoma

  • February state-wide average precipitation was nearly half of the long-term average for the month.
  • Significant moisture brought much needed relief across hard hit drought areas of western Oklahoma and the far western Panhandle during March. 
  • Much of the southeastern quarter of Oklahoma was 6–10 inches below normal since the start of the 2020–21 Water Year (October 1, 2020–September 30, 2021).

Kansas

  • There has been significant improvement state-wide, with the elimination of Extreme (D3) drought.
  • The state has seen reduced fire danger and behavior after significant fires in early March.
  • Soil moisture is favorable, with improvement in wheat conditions.
  • Cool/wet soils are hampering field activities and may possibly delay spring planting.

 New Mexico

  • Snowpack across the state is still low to very low. 
    • SWE in the Upper Gila is 27% of normal for this time of the season, Upper Pecos is at 49%, and Rio Grande-Elephant Butte is at 80% of normal.
    • The Rio Grande headwaters is the only region that has above-normal SWE at 110% of normal. 
  • Precipitation for March-to-date has been below average, overall, for the state. Northern and northeastern New Mexico has had a wetter month than the rest of the state. 
  • Long-term drought shows up clearly in surface water levels in the Rio Grande and Pecos basins. For example, Elephant Butte storage is 10% of capacity.

Rio Grande and Pecos River Basin Reservoir Storage 

Teacup diagram of storages on the Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Elephant Butte is 10% full, Caballo is at 14%, Sumner is at 49%, Brantly is at 35%, and Avalon is at 56%.
Rio Grande and Pecos River Basin reservoir storage as of March 24, 2021. Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

 Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Median: New Mexico Basins

SNOTEL snow water equivalent as percent of the Natural Resources Conservation sERVICE 1981-2010 average. The snow water equivalent for the regions that feed into the Rio Grande and Pecos reservoirs is lower than normal.
Basin snow water equivalent (SWE) for New Mexico, showing SWE as a percent of the NRCS 1981-2010 median. Valid March 24, 2021. Source: USDA NRCS.

 

For More Information

More local information is available from the following resources:

Prepared By

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

Mary Knapp
Weather Data Library and Kansas Assistant State Climatologist
Dept. of Agronomy, Kansas State University

Gary McManus
State Climatologist, Oklahoma Mesonet, Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Kyle Brehe
Southern Regional Climate Center/Louisiana Office of State Climatology, Louisiana State University 

Special Thanks

This drought early warning update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the offices of the state climatologist for Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The purpose of the update is to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Southern Plains based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought updates as conditions evolve.