Cold weather and widespread precipitation and snowfall was the norm for many areas of the contiguous U.S. this Drought Monitor week, said drought map author and USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.
From Jan. 2-5, he said, snow covered at least 50% of the contiguous U.S. A sudden return to frigid weather, accompanied by snow, increased livestock stress across the Plains and Midwest, Rippey noted.
Though deep-freeze conditions visited the Midwest, no drought changes were noted. Portions of the southern High Plains also experienced a protracted winter weather event, with periods of freezing and frozen precipitation occurring from Dec. 30 – Jan. 2.
An area of heavy rain covered much of eastern Texas and the southeastern corner of Oklahoma. Despite the early-January rainfall, long-term precipitation deficits persisted across many areas of the southern Plains, including northeastern Texas.
Ultimately, drought changes across the southern Plains were mostly in the direction of slight improvement, while "status quo" was the rule for the central Plains, he said.
Meanwhile, Western precipitation was generally light, although snow fell at unusually low elevations in the Southwest. Some producers in California and the Desert Southwest had to take protective measures to guard against freeze damage to citrus and vegetables.
In California's key watershed areas, mostly dry weather prevailed for a second consecutive week, following a highly beneficial, three-week wet spell. By Jan. 4, Rippey said, heavy precipitation briefly overspread non-drought areas of the Pacific Northwest, leading to melting snow, local flooding, and mudslides.
On the opposite side of the country, soaking rains returned in the South, erasing most of the lingering concerns about dryness and drought.
Near the edge of the remaining small area of D1, New Orleans received 1.27 inches of rain in early January. Impressive rain fell early in the New Year in other areas of the Southeast, totaling 2-4 inches.
In contrast, Florida's peninsula experienced an extended period of warm, mostly dry weather, although colder air arrived late in the drought-monitoring period.
Occasional precipitation continued to chip away at dryness in the Northeast. In northern New York, Massena received precipitation totaling 1.01 inches on January 3-4, following a rather dry finish to 2014.
During the last 4 months of 2014, Massena's precipitation totaled 5.68 inches, or 46% of normal.
For the first Drought Monitor of the New Year, we're comparing January 2014 with January 2015. For more drought maps and information, visit the U.S. Drought Monitor website.