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Regional Drought Update Date
February 24, 2022
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the North Central U.S.


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

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

Major Drought Concerns Remain in the Great Plains Moving into Spring.

Watch the recording from the February 17 North Central Climate and Drought Outlook Webinar for additional information and context.

 

Key Points

  • Drought has persisted since last year across portions of the North Central U.S. While winter precipitation has brought some relief to areas like Montana and North Dakota, other places have remained the same, or worsened. 
  • Moderate to exceptional drought (D1–D4) remains across much of the Great Plains (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), and portions of the upper Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) are experiencing moderate to severe drought (D1–D2).
  • Winter snowfall and snowpack is below normal in many areas, which is especially detrimental to regions that rely upon a seasonal snowpack (e.g., Northern Great Plains, Upper Midwest). 
  • The lack of snowfall and overall precipitation/moisture has already led to increased wildland fires in Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota; damaged winter wheat and cover crops in Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota; reduced livestock ponds in South Dakota for the upcoming season; and lessened recreational activities like skiing and snowmobiling in South Dakota and Wisconsin. 
  • The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook shows the likelihood of drought persistence through the end of May across areas that are currently in drought, particularly the Great Plains and portions of the Upper Midwest. 
  • The persistence of drought throughout the spring season raises major concerns for agriculture, wildfire, water supply, recreation, and ecosystems in the Great Plains. More moisture—whether that is in the form of snow or rain—is needed in order to alleviate concerns, and unfortunately the seasonal outlook is not showing this relief is likely.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: North Central U.S. | February 22, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the National Weather Service Central Region with data valid for February 22, 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
54.1%
of the North Central U.S. is in drought
8.9%
of the North Central U.S. is in extreme (D3) or exceptional (D4) drought
17.6%
of the North Central U.S. is abnormally dry (D0)

Current Conditions

  • Moderate to exceptional drought (D1–D4) remains across much of the Great Plains (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), and portions of the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) are experiencing moderate to severe drought (D1–D2).
  • Drought has persisted since last year across portions of the North Central U.S. While winter precipitation has brought some relief to areas like Montana and North Dakota, other places have remained the same, or worsened by one to two categories on the U.S. Drought Monitor (Figure 1).
  • Winter precipitation has been only 5%–50% of normal across a broad portion of the Great Plains, with the exception of eastern North Dakota, eastern Colorado, and portions of Wyoming and Montana. In the Midwest, winter precipitation has been 25%–70% of normal in a wide swath across Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. 
  • Below-normal snowfall has led to below-normal snowpack in many areas across the North Central U.S., which is especially detrimental to areas in the region that rely upon a seasonal snowpack to recharge soils, refill reservoirs and streams, sustain ecosystems, and for fire suppression (e.g., Northern Great Plains, Upper Midwest). Snowfall is 10%–25% of normal in portions of South Dakota and Nebraska (Figure 2).
  • Soils remain dry for portions of the region, which is a concern ahead of the growing season. Soil moisture is particularly low across northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin/eastern Iowa, as well as Nebraska, Kansas, and the eastern plains of Colorado (Figure 3).
  • Ponds and streams are reportedly lower than normal in many areas experiencing drought; however, U.S. Geological Survey streamflow data are not currently available at northern latitudes in winter. Streamflow is above-normal across the Ohio River Basin, which has heightened risk for flooding this spring in this area, with near- to below-normal streamflow elsewhere.

Figure 1. 8-Week U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map (Since December 28, 2021)

U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for the Central U.S., showing the change in drought conditions from December 28, 2021 to February 22, 2022.
8-week U.S. Drought Monitor change map, showing where drought has improved, remained the same, or worsened since December 28, 2021. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Figure 2. Snowfall Percent of Normal: October 1, 2021–February 22, 2022

Snowfall as a percent of 1991-2020 normals across the North Central U.S. from October 1, 2021 to February 22, 2022.
Accumulated snowfall as a percent of the 1991–2020 normal from October 1, 2021 to February 22, 2022. Source: Midwest Regional Climate Center cli-MATE maps.

Figure 3. Past Month Top 1-Meter Soil Moisture Percentile (valid February 19, 2022)

Map of the contiguous U.S. showing the top 1-meter soil moisture percentile for the past month, through February 19, 2022. Soils remain dry for portions of the North Central U.S.
NLDAS top 1-meter soil moisture percentiles for the past month. Valid February 19, 2022. Source: NASA.

Impacts

  • Overall, the lack of snowfall and precipitation has created significant wildfire issues across Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The Kansas Governor issued a state of disaster emergency on February 15 due to the elevated fire danger and red flag warnings that were in effect across the state. In South Dakota, 430 acres burned near the Black Hills in early February, which is unusual for this time of year. The fire risk will remain until these areas get heavy snowfall and/or widespread rainfall, and could potentially increase as temperatures increase seasonally.
  • The below-normal snowpack in most of the Missouri River Basin will likely have a negative impact on water supply this spring as it is unlikely that upcoming precipitation will make up the deficit at this point in the season. 
  • The dry winter conditions are affecting winter wheat and cover crops in Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota. A dry and warm fall made winter wheat germination and establishment difficult, and now moisture is needed before spring growth for success of the crop. Extreme cold is also a danger to winter wheat without the insulating snow to protect the crop.
  • Last year presented challenges for livestock production in the Northern Great Plains, and many growers are concerned about the upcoming year as well. The lack of precipitation has resulted in a loss of surface water, shown by stock dam levels dropping. Unless things turn around immediately and significantly, forage is going to be a major issue again this year in the Plains.
  • The lack of snowfall has negatively impacted the recreation and tourism industry, as snowmobiling and skiing is down in many states across the North Central U.S.

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

Submit Local Drought Impacts

Outlooks and Potential Impacts

  • The Climate Prediction Center's precipitation outlook for March shows an increased chance for below-normal precipitation in Colorado and western Kansas and Nebraska. There is a higher likelihood of above-normal precipitation across much of the Great Lakes/Ohio River Valley, which could lead to some potential drought relief in the Upper Midwest. For other portions of the region, there are equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation, leaving some uncertainty in the likelihood for drought relief (Figure 4).
  • March temperatures are expected to be above normal across a majority of the North Central U.S., which could lead to early break in dormancy and the potential for drying out the soil more quickly. Portions of the Northern Great Plains (eastern Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming) have equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures.
  • Looking throughout the spring season, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook shows drought persistence is likely through the end of May across the areas that are currently in drought in the North Central U.S. There is a small portion of northern Minnesota where drought removal is likely (Figure 5).
  • The persistence of drought throughout the spring season across areas already in significant drought raises major concerns for agriculture, wildfire, water supply, recreation, and ecosystems. While too much water is not ideal, farmers do need more moisture in the ground ahead of the growing season. Livestock producers need more precipitation to refill surface ponds and to grow adequate feed for their livestock. Wildfire risk is already unusually high this early in the season across portions of the Great Plains. Water supply and navigation along the Missouri River Basin will likely be impacted by the lack of snowpack since it will be hard to make up the existing deficit this late in the season. 

Figure 4. Monthly Precipitation Outlook: March 2022

Climate Predication Center 1-month precipitation outlook for March 2022. Odds favor above-normal precipitation in much of the Great Lakes/Ohio River Valley; below-normal in Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska.
1-month precipitation outlook for March 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 5. U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook: February 17–May 31, 2022

NOAA Climate Prediction Center U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, showing where drought is likely to improve, worsen, develop, or remain the same from February 17 to May 31, 2022.
This map shows the U.S. seasonal drought outlook for February 17–May 31, 2022, showing the probability that drought will persist, improve, or develop. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

For More Information

Prepared By

Molly Woloszyn & Britt Parker
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

Dennis Todey & Laurie Nowatzke
USDA Midwest Climate Hub

Dannele Peck
USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub

Doug Kluck
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

Melissa Widhalm
Midwestern Regional Climate Center/Purdue University

Ray Wolf & Audra Bruschi
NOAA/National Weather Service (NWS)

Kevin Low
NOAA/NWS Missouri Basin River Forecast 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 North Central U.S. based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.