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Western Drought Webinar: July 20, 2021

Event Date
July 20, 2021
Event Time
11:00 am - 1:30 pm

The 2021 Western Drought Webinar assembled stakeholders, decision makers, and drought experts for an informational webinar on drought conditions and response efforts in the Western United States.

The webinar included a summary of past and current conditions, looking at a variety of drought indicators such as snowpack, temperatures, precipitation, soil moisture, etc. Outlook information for drought, heat, and wildfire was also provided. Potential and ongoing impacts from drought were considered across communities and sectors, and Federal officials spoke to government response and relief efforts, with the goal of supporting communities impacted by the ongoing drought.


Introductions and Opening Remarks

Veva Deheza, Executive Director, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

  • I would like to thank everyone who worked to put this webinar together, including our partners at the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The 2021 Western Drought Webinar has assembled stakeholders, decision makers, and drought experts from around the West and around the country. This is an informational webinar on drought and fire conditions and current response efforts across the Western United States.
  • The webinar will include a summary of past, current and forecast drought conditions. We will also learn about potential and ongoing impacts from drought across communities and sectors, and Federal agency leaders will speak to Federal government response and relief efforts and resources.
  • Any remarks not summarized here can be viewed in the full webinar recording on the NIDIS YouTube channel.

Dr. Rick Spinrad, Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Watch the full remarks.

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)

Watch the full remarks.

Gloria Montaño Greene, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Watch the full remarks.



Panel 1: Drought Conditions and Forecasted Outlook, Fire Outlook

Climate and Drought Status Update

David Simeral, Desert Research Institute, Western Regional Climate Center

  • 89% of the Western U.S. is in drought (D1–D4), with nearly 57% in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought. This is the highest percent area of drought in the Western U.S. since the U.S. Drought Monitor started.
  • Drought Development:
    • Much of the West was drought free coming into spring 2020Drought conditions worsened in the Southwest (summer 2020) due to a poor monsoon season (driest Jun.-Sept. on record in the Four Corners states) and record-breaking heat.
    • Snow drought, anomalously warm temperatures, and poor runoff led to further expansion and intensification in California and Great Basin during spring 2021.
    • Drought intensified in parts of the Missouri River Basin (Dakotas, eastern Montana) during spring 2021 due to a low snowpack, below-normal spring rainfall, and soil moisture deficits. 
    • Record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest in early summer 2021 led to rapid deterioration in a region already facing multi-year precipitation deficits.
  • The current drought situation sits within the broader context of approximately two decades of drought in areas of the West.
  • Based on the Palmer Drought Index statistics, the percent area of the West in moderate to extreme drought in 2021 set a 122-year-record.
  • The past 3 months have been drier than normal with areas of record dryness in California, Oregon, Utah, Washington. Well above-normal temperatures led to rapid melting of mountain snowpack.
  • Overall, statewide reservoir storage is below normal across much of the West. The two largest reservoirs in the West (Lake Mead, Lake Powell) are at historic or near-historic low levels.
  • Active start to the 2021 Southwest monsoon season with above-normal precipitation in portions of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. This has brought modest drought relief in recent weeks.
  • Learn more about western drought conditions.



Looking Forward: Latest Climate Prediction Center Outlooks for Temperature, Precipitation, Drought, and ENSO

Jon Gottschalck, Climate Prediction Center, NOAA/National Weather Service/National Centers for Environmental Prediction

  • Above-normal temperatures are most likely for the western U.S. and northern Plains for both August and the August-September-October season 
  • Below-normal precipitation is modestly favored for the August-September-October season overall. 
  • However, some improvement in drought conditions may occur for parts of the Southwest due to prospects for an active monsoon during July into early August.
  • ENSO-neutral is favored through the summer and into the fall (through the Aug-Sep-Oct season). La Nina may potentially re-emerge during the autumn months of 2021 and continue through the winter of 2021-2022, so its typical impacts should be considered later in 2021.
  • View the Climate Prediction Center’s Monthly Drought Outlook and Seasonal Drought Outlook.






The U.S. Drought Portal (

Kelsey Satalino, NOAA / NIDIS

  • is the U.S. government Drought Portal and a key interagency resource for drought decision makers.
  • Up-to-date drought conditions, forecasts, and impacts from the city and county level to state, watershed, national, and international scales.
  • Interactive maps and data that show drought in new ways, including historical drought information (going back up to 2,000 years).
  • is an interagency resource, showcasing the work of NIDIS and its partners across the federal government, as well as state, regional, local, academic, and private sector organizations.



2021 Summer–Fall Fire Outlook

Nick Nauslar, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior

  • There is a lot of large fire activity, and we have not reached the typical peak of the fire season yet. Fuel dryness is ahead of schedule, typical of peak fire season.
  • As of July 15, we are at Preparedness Level 5 nationally (on a scale of 1–5). This is the second earliest move to PL 4 and the third earliest move to PL 5 since 1990.
  • National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook: Monthly updated outlooks forecasting above- or below-normal significant fire potential for the next four months.
  • The monsoon is expected to shift significant fire activity west and north, which is typical, but with more significant fire potential than normal.
  • The potential is there, but as we saw last year, critical fire weather is necessary to realize potential. 
  • There are more impacts than just fire: air quality, debris flows, etc.






Panel 2: Drought Impacts and Western Perspectives

Impacts to North Dakota Beef Producers

Jeff Schafer, President, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association

  • 100% of North Dakota is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 92% of the state is in at least severe (D2) drought. The extended forecast calls for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation. All of this makes securing enough feed to feed a cow very challenging.
  • In most areas, the hay crop is 10%–25% of normal. Minimum moisture, coupled with the late frost, hurt our alfalfa crop.
  • Producers have chosen to cut small grain fields for hay versus harvesting them for grain, as there just isn't enough forage to bale.
  • North Dakota had roughly 970,000 head of cows prior to the drought. Areas of the state have seen herd reductions of 10%–25%, with some complete herd liquidations.
  • We're in a critical time frame on the corn crop in North Dakota.



Current Work Linking Public Health and Drought 2021

Dr. Laura Fox, Senior Epidemiologist, Arizona Environmental Public Health Tracking Program

  • Drought has a broad impact on public health. Drought can have many harsh effects on plants, animals, and the environment. It can also have lasting and broad impacts on human health, especially vulnerable populations.
  • 2020 Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan
  • Issues related to drought and key public health concerns include water quality, air pollution, extreme heat, social vulnerability, and zoonotic diseases.
  • Use public health data and statistics, and resources to inform decision makers and preparedness partners
  • Connect public health data and statistics on drought in one place: Arizona Environmental Public Health Tracking Data Explorer



Drought Impacts: Wildland Fire in Northern California

Nicole Valliant, Acting Predictive Services Lead, U.S. Forest Service Northern California Coordination Center

  • All of the northern California geographic area is in drought, with 31% in exceptional (D4) drought.
  • Many mountainous areas within northern California experienced low snowpack with early meltoff. 
    • This, combined with minimal spring precipitation and multiple heat waveshas lead to conditions 4–6 weeks ahead of “normal.” (Typically, late August to early September is peak fire season.)
  • Early start to the fire season:
    • 2021: 2,417 fires / 144,652 acres
    • 10 year average: 1,594 fires / 67,176 acres
  • Fires are fuels driven, making suppression difficult via direct attack.
  • Fire spread experienced is exceeding expectations of experienced fire managers.



Drought Impacts to Agricultural Producers

Dan Keppen, Executive Director, Family Farm Alliance

  • The Family Farm Alliance represents family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts, and allied industries in 16 western states. We advocate for reliable water supplies to support irrigation operations.
  • Western farmers and ranchers are facing a brutal growing season as drought conditions drastically reduce water deliveries.
  • In the Colorado River Basin, Lake Mead is just 35% full. Due to the low Lake Mead levels, agriculture producers served by the Central Arizona Project will soon see their allocations reduced.
  • Cattle ranches and dairy farms are liquidating their herds as they run short of feed and water. Some farmers are tearing out certain crops to plant less water intensive ones. Others are letting their fields lie fallow. No water for a farmer means no crops, no food, and a very limited ability to take care of their family.
  • We're already seeing impacts to the environment. In some agricultural areas, the wildlife (particularly waterfowl) that rely on the canal system, ditch banks, and irrigated fields are simply not there.



Navajo Nation: At the Intersection of All Things Drought Related

Bidtah N. Becker, Navajo Nation

  • Vulnerable groups in the Navajo Nation impacted by drought include water haulers, public water systems, dryland farmers, irrigators, and ranchers. It's estimated that 30%-40% of the homes in the Navajo Nation lack piped water.
  • The Navajo Nation is located in the heart of the Colorado River Basin. As of July 13, 100% of the Navajo Nation is in severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought, and 96% is experiencing extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought.
  • 57% of our on-reservation power supply is from non-carbon sources (e.g., from the Hoover Dam). Low reservoir supply means power cannot be generated, so they must purchase more expensive power.
  • Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership
  • Navajo Nation Rivers and Streams



Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Drought Conditions Update

Demetri Polyzos, Resource Planning Team Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

  • We have a diverse regional water supply in southern California. 
    • Imported water supply: Colorado RiverState Water Project (California Department of Water Resources)
    • Local supply: groundwater, recycled water, desalination, and conservation
    • Storage: in and out of service area; groundwater and surface water
  • We are enduring an extremely dry 2-year period. Snowpack did not produce runoffLake Mead levels dropped to lowest levels since initial fill. However, we began this year with the largest storage balance in Metropolitan’s history
  • Impacts to Metropolitan’s Service Area:
    • Outlook is bleak for both imported supply source
      • Anticipating a low or 0% State Water Project Initial Allocation.
      • Anticipating first ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River System.
    • Low State Water Project supplies highlight challenges in portions of Metropolitan’s service area with limited supply flexibility.



Panel 3: Interagency Drought Relief Working Group

On April 21, President Biden announced the formation of an Interagency Drought Relief Working Group to address worsening drought conditions in the West and support farmers, Tribes, and communities impacted by ongoing water shortages. 

Over the next half hour, Representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will discuss the work being done across the Federal government to address the current drought and fire conditions and current efforts to provide relief.

View full remarks from the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group presenters via the webinar recording.

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)

Watch the full remarks.

Camille Calimlim Touton, Deputy Commissioner, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, DOI

Watch the full remarks.

Gloria Montaño Greene, Deputy Under Secretary or Farm Production and Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Watch the full remarks.

Carlos Suarez, California State Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Watch the full remarks.



Concluding Remarks