The latest U.S. Drought Monitor showed 82% of the U.S. is currently experiencing some form of dryness or drought, a 20% jump from the same period last year. Unfortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) newly released U.S. Winter Outlook does not hold great news for this scenario.
This year, La Niña returns for the third consecutive winter, driving warmer-than-average temperatures for the Southwest and along the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard, the forecasters noted. Starting in December 2022 through February 2023, NOAA predicts drier-than-average conditions across the South with wetter-than-average conditions for areas of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
While the chance of La Niña conditions is currently at 75% due to persisting below-average sea surface temperatures, the Climate Prediction Center did forecast a 54% chance that conditions will return to ENSO-neutral in February-April 2023.
NOAA forecasters, in collaboration with the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), continue to monitor extreme, ongoing drought conditions that have persisted in the Western U.S. since late 2020, as well as parts of the central U.S. where historic low-water conditions are currently present.
“Drought conditions are now present across approximately 59% of the country, but parts of the Western U.S and southern Great Plains will continue to be the hardest hit this winter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief, Operational Prediction Branch, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “With the La Niña climate pattern still in place, drought conditions may also expand to the Gulf Coast.”
According to the outlook, the greatest chance for warmer-than-average conditions are in western Alaska, and the Central Great Basin and Southwest extending through the Southern Plains. Warmer-than-average temperatures are also favored in the Southeastern U.S. and along the Atlantic coast. Below-normal temperatures, however, are favored from the Pacific Northwest eastward to the western Great Lakes and the Alaska Panhandle.
Regarding precipitation, NOAA is forecasting wetter-than-average conditions in western Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes, and Ohio Valley. Contrarily, the greatest chances for drier-than-average conditions are forecast in portions of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, southern Plains, Gulf Coast, and much of the Southeast.
“The remainder of the U.S. falls into the category of equal chances for below-, near-, or above-average seasonal total precipitation,” the forecasters noted.
The drought forecast is bleak, with widespread extreme drought continues to persist across much of the West, the Great Basin, and the central-to-southern Great Plains. Drought is also expected to impact the middle and lower Mississippi Valley this winter, and drought development is expected to occur across the South-central and Southeastern U.S.
The only improvement in drought conditions will be across the Northwestern U.S. over the coming months, the forecasters noted.
The latest numbers from USDA and the UNL Drought Mitigation Center show approximately 69% of the U.S. beef cattle inventory is in an area experiencing drought. This is up 35% year over year. Approximately 61% of U.S. hay areas are currently in drought, up from 34% from last year. Only 26% of the hog and pig inventory was in an area experiencing drought last year at this time, but this number is now at 61%.
On the grain side, approximately 62% of corn producing areas and 61% of soybean producing areas are experiencing drought. Winter wheat and spring wheat areas experiencing drought are even higher, at 70% and 75%, respectively.