NOAA 2002-025
Contact: Scott Snullen
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Climate forecasters see limited relief from a drought that covers much of the East Coast and a wide area in the West, according to NOAA's National Weather Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to NOAA, although the unusually dry pattern in the East is giving way to a relatively wetter, potentially stormier pattern, rain amounts are not likely to be enough to break drought conditions. NOAA scientists said the drought there is so severe that months of normal-to-above-normal precipitation are necessary to end it. The same is true in the West where winter snow fall has been light and predicted early spring rains may be near-normal but not nearly enough to alleviate current drought conditions.

"The drought in some areas will worsen as we move into the warmer months when demand for water is greatest. Nearly four years of little rain and snow in some places has left many areas with deep water deficits," said Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr. USN (ret.), NOAA's administrator. "Changing weather patterns may offer a glimmer of hope, but we don't see the water levels returning to normal anytime soon."

"The weather patterns of late fall and winter are causing the drought conditions," said Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, USAF (ret.), director of the National Weather Service. "We can point to a persistent high-pressure pattern that kept the jet stream and storm track away from the East most of that time, making matters worse in areas that were already dry. In the next few weeks we expect the jet stream to continue dipping more to the south, bringing moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico toward the eastern seaboard."

Several locations in the Southeast have precipitation deficits of more than 30 inches aggregating since 1998.

"For some areas, this is comparable to missing a full year of rain," Kelly said. "This gives us a real sense that this drought could linger on a while. It will take a period of above normal, well distributed rainfall during the next four months to eliminate most aspects of the drought in the East."

In the West, states suffering the worst conditions are Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, portions of Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of western Texas. The entire state of Wyoming has been declared a drought disaster area. The coastal region of the West is not experiencing drought conditions.

"Water supply forecasts are also bleak for parts of the West. In some areas, snow cover is only half of the normal and forecasts indicate flows on rivers, critical to meeting water supply needs, are also expected to be half of normal," Kelly said.

Across both drought areas there is heightened concern about the threat of damaging wildfires. For the Southeast, above average number of wildfires are possible starting in March. In the East, the wildfire season began earlier than in past years, and fire hazards will likely increase through April and early May. For the northern Rockies, an above average number of fires can be expected this summer.

According to Tom Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, the continental United States experienced its 14th driest winter and fifth warmest winter (December to February). The Northeast had its second driest and second warmest September-February in 107 years of record keeping. During the same period, the Southeast had its seventh driest, and the Southwest its fourth driest. Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona and Massachusetts posted their driest September to February ever.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

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Drought Data:

  • New York City reservoir storage is at 50-percent.
  • Precipitation in Washington, D.C., is 70 percent below normal for the September to February period – a 13-inch deficit.
  • North-central Montana is in its sixth year of drought with precipitation less than half of normal. Winter wheat production was the lowest since 1940.

For more information about the U.S. drought visit: