According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, during the four-week period ending Feb. 2, 2016, contiguous U.S. drought coverage fell 2.9% to 15.48%. U.S. Department of Agriculture chief meteorologist Brad Rippey said this represents the smallest areal coverage of U.S. drought in more than five years, since Oct. 26, 2010.
“Perhaps not coincidentally, the U.S. drought minimum of 2010 occurred in the wake of the most recently completed El Niño, which lasted from the summer of 2009 to the spring of 2010,” Rippey said.
Since mid-October 2015, stormy weather in many parts of the country — in part driven by a strong El Niño — has significantly reduced U.S. drought coverage from 34.78% to 15.48% — a drop of 19.30%.
“Where drought remains, mostly in the Far West, there has been incremental improvement,” Rippey said. “Although long-term concerns still include below-average reservoir storage, groundwater shortages, and tree mortality, winter precipitation has boosted spring and summer runoff prospects, improved rangeland and pasture conditions, cut irrigation demands, and reduced the need for supplemental feeding of livestock.”
On Feb. 2, more than one-third (38%) of the western U.S. remained in drought, down from 57% in early October 2015. Most (95%) of California was still in drought on Feb. 2, despite being down 2% from the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1, 2015. Farther north, coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) since Oct. 1 has decreased to at or near 0%.