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NOAA's Drought OutlookMay 16, 2000 — For drought-stricken areas of the United States, there is both good and bad news. The good news is La Niña, the weather phenomenon responsible for bringing drought conditions to some parts of the nation for the past two years, is expected to continue diminishing for the next several months. The bad news is above-normal temperatures, which speed up the evaporation of precipitation and soil moisture, are forecast to affect drought-weary states for the rest of the spring into summer. The forecast, released today by NOAA's National Weather Service, is part of the National Drought Policy Commission's report on the impact of the drought in America.

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U.S. Drought Monitor NOAA's Seasonal U.S. Drought Outlook

At a Washington press briefing among member federal agencies of the commission, Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service, said, "if we ever hope to lessen the blow of drought to the nation's farmers and other vital interests, the National Weather Service must continue to improve its forecasts and monitoring abilities of the meteorological ingredients that produce drought conditions."

In its first-ever drought forecast released in March, the National Weather Service predicted the hardest hit areas would be: southern Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia in the south, and Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana in the central U.S.

With its latest forecast, meteorologists still expect severe to extreme drought conditions to persist in Florida, Georgia, central west Texas, north Arkansas, southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern and eastern Alabama, and western South Carolina.

Severe drought conditions will also persist in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois. The summer forecast favors below normal precipitation and warmer than normal temperatures—a combination that will lead to a worsening drought.

The drought on the leeward areas of Hawaii will also persist.

In New Mexico, where 250,000 acres have been scorched from Jan. 1 - May 10, only predicted monsoon rains in July may bring relief to the parched landscape.
In drought-impacted states, even when substantial rains appear, hot weather dashes any benefits. For example, in early May when areas near St. Louis were drenched by 8 - 14 inches of rain, high temperatures evaporated much of the precipitation not lost by runoff, and any chance of relief for Missouri, which is still 11 inches below normal precipitation.

"Rains like these can't erase overnight what two years of La Niña and long-term drought helped to produce. These are major precipitation deficits," Kelly added. (La Niña is defined by cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, which impact weather around the world.)

And for states such as Louisiana, which has been its driest on record since May 1998, and Georgia the second driest on record, last week's surging temperatures worsened drought conditions. The forecast calls for more of the same.

With yearly economic losses from drought hovering between $6 - 8 billion, which is more than floods ($2.41 billion) or hurricanes ($1.2 - 4.8 billion), Kelly said drought forecasting will continue to remain at the top of his agency's priority list.

Kelly pointed to several forecasting tools produced by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, including the Drought Monitor and Threats Assessment, as evidence of the agency's efforts to predict drought cycles. The commission report cited the Drought Monitor as a prime example of inter-agency collaboration.

"We are going to continue to warn America ahead of time when and where drought conditions are expected," Kelly said.

Drought Forecast Highlights

In the Midwest and Great Plains:

  • April 2000 was the driest April on record in Missouri;
  • Warm temperatures have dried out subsoil moisture, crucial for farmers;
  • In parts of the region, there is a chance of slight relief in late May, but soaring temperatures will increase evaporation and a quick return to dry conditions

Along the Southern Tier:

  • For Arizona the period from October 1999-April 2000 was the second driest October-April on record;
  • Central and south Louisiana have rainfall deficits of 29 inches, Georgia is 20 inches below normal precipitation and western South Carolina is 18 inches below normal;
  • Starting in July, heavy monsoon rains are expected for the southern Rockies and far west Texas, which should provide significant relief. However above-normal temperatures may increase evaporation and contribute to summer drought.

For the latest drought forecast see NOAA's Drought Information Center.

The Climate of 2000 (U.S. and Global Climate Perspectives)

National Drought Policy Commission

Report of the National Drought Policy Commission

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Media Contacts:
Curtis Carey, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622.