As of January 6, 2015 the extent of drought conditions across the U.S. is at its lowest point since December 20, 2011. However, drought conditions in parts of the west and southern plains remain severe. December 2014 brought heavy precipitation to southeastern and eastern portions of the country, significantly reducing levels of abnormal dryness (D0), moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought conditions. The period between December 16 and January 6 saw especially dramatic improvement in drought coverage, with decreases ranging from 22-93% in some states.
Large portions of the west, southwest and southern plains are still experiencing extreme drought conditions and coverage. As of January 6, exceptional drought (D4) conditions were noted in parts of California (32%), Nevada (12%), Oklahoma (6%), and Texas (2%). California leads the nation in severe drought conditions with 78% coverage of extreme (D3) to exceptional drought (D4).
In spite of California’s seemingly dire drought conditions, they have seen improvement from 5 weeks ago when 55% of the state was classified as D4-exceptional drought; currently at 32% as of January 6. The first 3 weeks of December inundated parts of California with precipitation, this increased soil moisture, helping to revive rangelands and pastures. However, ongoing drought conditions are of growing concern as reservoir levels drop, groundwater declines and mountains receive subnormal snowpack, freshwater quantities needed for the population and agriculture get dangerously scarce.
Drought conditions are seriously affecting agricultural production of one the country’s top crops; wheat. The latest agricultural drought statistics revealed that 18% of the domestic hay acreage and 26% of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in a drought-affected area, based on U.S. Drought Monitor reporting as of January 6. This means that more than 1/3 of winter wheat production in this country is in a region experiencing drought conditions. The USDA reports that winter wheat production declined in many states during December partially due to drought conditions with weather extremes also contributing to the problem.