National Drought Mitigation Center


U.S. Crops in Drought for Sept. 2015: Entrenched drought affecting rangeland and pastures in WA, OR, CA

October 5, 2015

By Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, Washington, D.C.

SPECIAL NOTE: The latest U.S. Drought Monitor incorporates precipitation that fell through 8 am EDT on Sept. 29. Since that time, parts of the eastern U.S. have experienced significant rainfall. Changes in the depiction due to this latest rainfall will be reflected next week, in the Drought Monitor dated October 6. Regardless of whether Hurricane Joaquin makes an East Coast landfall, rainfall totals during the next several days could reach 5 inches or more in many locations from the Carolinas to southern New England. Drought conditions such as those that developed in parts of the eastern U.S. during August and September typically improve slowly, but exceptions can occur during extreme precipitation events.

During the four-week period ending on Sept. 29, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased to 31.36 percent—an increase of nearly one (0.93) percentage point.

During the four weeks ending Sept. 29, statewide drought coverage increased at least ten percentage points in several southern and eastern States, including Connecticut (from 21 to 88 percent); Rhode Island (17 to 52 percent); Mississippi (25 to 57 percent); Massachusetts (0 to 30 percent); Arkansas (14 to 42 percent); New Jersey (17 to 43 percent); Texas (25 to 38 percent); and New Hampshire (8 to 20 percent). Extreme drought (D3) developed in parts of several southern states, with coverage by Sept. 29 reaching 15 percent in Louisiana, 7 percent in Mississippi, 6 percent in Texas, 5 percent in Arkansas, and 1 percent Oklahoma. In contrast, substantial improvement was noted during September in South Carolina (from 64 to 32 percent drought coverage), Hawaii (24 to 0 percent), Florida (21 to 4 percent), North Carolina (34 to 18 percent), and Alaska (18 to 4 percent). On Sept. 27, USDA rated topsoil moisture at least two-thirds very short to short in several southern states, including Mississippi (77 percent very short to short), Arkansas (72 percent), and Texas (70 percent). Also on Sept. 27, Southern pastures were rated at least 30 percent very poor to poor in North Carolina (45 percent), Texas (35 percent), Mississippi (31 percent), and Louisiana (30 percent).

California, mired in a four-year drought, endured two particularly destructive wildfires—the Valley and Butte fires—during September. For the year to date, U.S. wildfires have burned nearly 9.1 million acres of vegetation (145 percent of the 10-year average for the end of September), approaching the modern-day annual record of nearly 9.9 million acres set in 2006. (More than half of this year’s total, more than 5.1 million acres, burned early in the year during a rash of Alaskan wildfires.) Coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) was steady during September in California (71 percent), Washington (68 percent), Oregon (67 percent), and Idaho (29 percent), but declined slightly (from 19 to 17 percent) in Montana.

By Sept. 29, Washington led the nation with 75 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor, followed by Oregon (67 percent) and California (65 percent). On the same date, California and Oregon led the U.S. in topsoil (95 and 84 percent very short to short, respectively) and subsoil (90 and 87 percent) moisture shortages. In large part due to western and southern drought, 23 percent of the U.S. hay production area and the U.S. cattle inventory were located in drought on Sept. 29. Those numbers represented an increase from 20 percent for both commodities on Sept. 1. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of the U.S. winter wheat production area was located in a drought-affected area on Sept. 29. Winter wheat planting was 31 percent complete and the crop was 7 percent emerged by Sept. 27, meaning that rain will soon be needed in drought-affected production areas to ensure proper autumn establishment.

On Sept. 29, drought covered a negligible portion (5 percent or less) of the U.S. corn and soybean production areas.

Weather outlook: By the morning of October 1, forecast guidance remains mixed on whether Hurricane Joaquin will directly strike the U.S. East Coast. Possible solutions range from a U.S. landfall (from the Carolinas northward) to a relatively harmless pass east of, and parallel to, the Atlantic Seaboard. Regardless of Joaquin’s path, significant, late-week rain can be expected from the Carolinas into the Mid-Atlantic States, in the vicinity of a stalled front. Meanwhile, a storm moving inland across California will reach the Rockies on Friday. A second storm will develop along the Pacific Coast during the weekend, leading to a period of showery weather from California and the Great Basin into the Southwest. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 1 to 3 inches in the Rockies and High Plains, while local amounts in excess of an inch can be expected in other areas of the West. In the East, rainfall totals will be dependent upon Joaquin’s track, but some degree of flooding can be expected in the Mid-Atlantic States and neighboring areas. During the next few days, cooler weather will arrive in most areas of the U.S., although frost and freezes will be mostly confined to the northern Plains and upper Midwest.

PLEASE NOTE: The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, unless conditions warrant an earlier release. 

The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will still be produced on a weekly basis, and can be viewed:

Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded: