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California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar: March 22, 2021

Event Date
March 22, 2021
Event Time
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

According to the March 16 U.S. Drought Monitor, 90.6% of California and 100% of Nevada are in drought. The winter wet season is almost over, and there's little chance for snowpack to reach normal levels. Worse, this is the second year in a row with below-normal snowpack. This webinar discussed current conditions and outlooks, as well as an overview of California and Nevada rangeland conditions.

The California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System (CA-NV DEWS) March 2021 Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e., El Niño and La Niña).


Welcome to the California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar

Amanda Sheffield, NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)



Drought & Climate Update

Dan McEvoy, Western Regional Climate Center/Desert Research Institute/California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP, a NOAA RISA team)

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly all of the region is in drought with ~4%/~26% of California and ~40%/32% of Nevada in Exceptional (D4)/Extreme (D3) Drought. 
  • The region's wettest months (December - February) have been primarily dry due to a lack of frequent major storms or atmospheric rivers. No ‘miracle March’ has occurred to help conditions.
  • California-Nevada has entered a multi-year drought. For example, this is only the second time since 1895 with 2 years in a row below 15 inches between October-February in the Sierra Nevada Climate Region (the last time was 1976-1977).
  • Persistently high Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) values have amplified precipitation-driven drought impacts.
  • Snow drought is present across the Sierras with conditions in better shape in northeast Nevada. 
  • Streamflow is low throughout the region, and most reservoirs are below normal. Extremely dry soils will lead to less spring/summer runoff and increased fire danger. 
  • Overall, drought conditions have intensified over most of the region. The region is now in a multiyear drought, and potential/ongoing impacts (e.g., poor rangeland and grazing conditions, water supply reduced, increased fire danger) will be felt this spring and summer. 



Drought & Climate Outlook

Nathan Patrick, NOAA/National Weather Service (NWS)/California-Nevada River Forecast Center

  • La Niña conditions are expected to weaken into neutral conditions by summer. Only two El Niños have followed La Niña since 1950.
  • As California-Nevada enters its dry season, the NOAA NWS Climate Prediction Center’s April, May, June outlook suggests warmer (33%-60% chance) than normal temperatures and drier than normal conditions. 
  • NOAA NWS California-Nevada River Forecast Center’s current Water Year 2021 and seasonal (April-July) water support forecasts expect runoff to be below normal (25%-75%) depending on location. It's unlikely spring precipitation will help the forecasts recover. 
  • Drought conditions are expected to persist through June 2021 and beyond.



Question & Answer



California and Nevada Rangeland Conditions

USDA California Climate Hub

Lauren Parker, UC Davis

  • Our mission is to help California land users (farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and tribes) and land managers maintain sustainable communities and ecosystems by adapting to climate variability and change. 
  • Click here to learn more about the USDA California Climate Hub.



Nevada Rangeland Conditions & Why It’s Complex

Kerri Jean Ormerod, State Specialist, University of Nevada Reno Extension

  • The Living with Drought program website provides information on What is Drought?, its impacts, a call to action for condition monitoring, and resources. Additionally, check out Climate Change Impacts in Nevada.
  • Nevada’s geographic personality makes information sharing difficult. This includes two distinct areas of the Great Basin and Colorado Basin, the high and low desert, 200+ watersheds, north-south mountain ranges, and many microclimates and soil types. Rangeland is impacted by both hydrologic and vegetative drought. 
  • >85% land is managed by agencies of the U.S. federal government. Management and regulatory decisions are often made months in advance and reduce flexible response actions. 
  • A sparse hydrological and meteorological observation network limits data to help depict drought. They solicit impact and CMOR reports as best they can to fill in gaps.
  • The rangelands conditions reported highlight the variability in impacts with potentially normal conditions in Humboldt County (depending on spring rain and temperature) to Eureka County in central Nevada where the Bureau of Land Management is warning that turnout numbers may be reduced and supplemental feed is being grown on private lands.



Ongoing & Developing Drought Impacts to California’s Rangelands

Leslie Roche, Specialist, University of California Cooperative Extension

  • California rangeland is incredibly diverse, including annual grassland, oak woodland, mountain meadow, and intermountain (e.g., perennial grasses). This contributes to different growing seasons across the state. 
  • 57 million acres, or about half of California, is rangeland with 34 million acres grazed. Being a rain and snow fed system and coping with drought is critical. 
  • See Roche et al. 2016 for more information on proactive and reactive drought management strategies from the 2012-2016 drought like conserving forage/maintaining flexibility. 
  • Highlights of rangeland conditions being reported (see recording for full report region by region in California):
    • Conditions are closest to average in the North Coast area, and it is still early to tell in some of northern California as late spring rain is important.
    • Reduced forage production is reported in most parts of California with forage/pasture availability restricted due to lack of water in the Sacramento Valley and Bay-Delta.
    • Seasonal creeks/ponds are dry in the Sierra foothills and ranchers there and in the San Joaquin Valley are supplementary feeding.  
    • Livestock is being sold early, such as in the Central and South coasts and San Joaquin Valley. 
  • For more information, visit UC Rangelands and their past webinars, Working Rangelands Wednesdays



Question & Answer




Amanda Sheffield, NOAA/NIDIS

  • Register now for the next webinar in this series on Monday, May 24, 2021.


Key Partners

We would like to thank Dan McEvoy (WRCC/DRI/CNAP), Nathan Patrick (California-Nevada River Forecast Center), Lauren Parker (UC Davis), Kerri Jean Ormerod (University of Nevada Reno Extension), and Leslie Roche (University of California Cooperative Extension) for taking the time to present as part of the California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook webinar series.