Drought Outlook: Over Half the U.S. Is Dry

December 6, 2016
Drought Outlook

The latest figures are out. As of end of 2016, more than half of the continental U.S. is dry or in drought. And it’s not expected to end.

The dryness is not scattered. It is focused in three areas—the West, the South and the Northeast. What’s worse, the government really doesn’t see much room for improvement. They expect long sunny days and dead, brown lawns.


Ouch! The US has three long, hard and dry strikes against it. Source: NOAA


Last year and this year through May, we had a wonderful El Niño. El Niños typically bring lots of rain. You can practically see the flowerbeds and grain fields grinning. You get to commune with your lawn as the grass grows like weeds and the weeks grow like green alien invaders.


El Niño (first image) and La Niña (second image); we’ve change from the wet El Niño to a potentially drought causing La Niña. Source: NOAA

Then the El Niño ended in May. For two months, the Tropical Pacific remained rather normal, then it cooled. The temperatures were as cold as a La Niña by late July and, this November, the scientists have officially declared La Niña condition. The Tropical Pacific phenomenon covers one-tenth of the Earth’s surface and affects weather all over the globe. Here in the USA, it brings much drier weather. 


How dry the US was on May 31, the end of El Niño, (left) and now (right) Source NOAA

Doomed to Drought?

Back on May 31, the end of El Niño, less than a third of the continental US was dry and only 12% was in drought. Now 51%, over half, of the nation is dry and 30%, almost a third is in drought. While most of the grain belt is in good shape, California fruits and vegetables, Southern cotton and the giant metropolitan areas from Washington DC to New York and Boston are struggling for water.

Why the Drought Will continue

Unfortunately, La Niña is expected to linger through winter. This is bad news for California and the Southeast, since La Niña winters usually bring less rainfall for the West Coast and the southern tier of states as well as large stretches of the East Coast.


Typical December/January/February precipitation (Left) and temperatures (Right) weather Source: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

So, it looks like we are doomed to sunny skies and lower heating bills. Use your savings to find the snow in Colorado and ski through the powder. Meanwhile, the three dry areas look as if they may have to wait for spring to bring the rainfall.


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.