Drought - February 2002


NCDC transitioned to the nClimDiv dataset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. This was coincident with the release of the February 2014 monthly monitoring report. For details on this transition, please visit our public FTP site and our U.S. Climate Divisional Database site.

National Overview

On the national scale,
  • severe drought affected about 21 percent of the contiguous United States as of the end of February 2002;
  • the coverage of the current (November 1999-present) drought peaked in August 2000 at about 36% of the contiguous U.S., which was as extensive as the major droughts of the last 40 years, but not as large as the "dust bowl" droughts of the 1930's and 1950's;
  • the total drought area decreased to about 10 percent by November 2000, but has shown a general increasing trend for much of the period since then (see graph below left);
  • on a broad scale, the last two decades were characterized by unusual wetness with short periods of extensive droughts, whereas the 1930's and 1950's were characterized by prolonged periods of extensive droughts with little wetness (see graph below right);
  • although different parts of the U.S. have experienced unusually wet conditions during the last 28 months, little change occurred in the overall national wetness picture during much of this period;
  • the percentage of the nation severely wet has held steady at about three to eleven percent during this period, only recently falling below one percent (see graph below left);
  • a file containing the national monthly percent area severely dry and wet from 1900 to present is available;
  • historical temperature, precipitation, and Palmer drought data from 1895 to present for climate divisions, states, and regions in the contiguous U.S. are available at the Climate Division: Temperature-Precipitation-Drought Data page.
Click here for graphic showing U.S. Drought and Wet Spell Area, 1996-present
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Click here for graphic showing U.S. Drought and Wet Spell Area, 1900-present
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Although some areas of the U.S. had above normal precipitation, many areas were very dry. February averaged much drier than normal when precipitation is integrated across the nation. Twelve of the last 30 months have averaged well below the normal, while only three averaged well above normal (see graph to right). National 2001-2002 precipitation ranks: Click here for graphic showing U.S. Precipitation Departure and Normals, January 1998-February 2002
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Regional Overview

Winter storms that moved across the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies brought beneficial snow and rain to some areas during February. However, the wet start to winter was interrupted on a regional basis, with long-term deficits still covering a large part of the western U.S. Drought continued its stranglehold across the eastern seaboard, with extreme moisture deficits occurring in February from the mid-Atlantic coast into the Ohio Valley and Deep South. Long-term deficits continued in parts of the southern Plains, while short-term deficits persisted during February in the northern Plains. Parts of northern and southeast interior Alaska had a dry February, while mountain snowpack across much of the state continued below average. The primary stations in Hawaii were dry in the northern islands but wet on the Big Island. This overall pattern is evident in the following indicators:

Two other drought-related monitoring tools are the Vegetation Health Index and the Keetch-Byram Drought Index:

  • NOAA satellite observations of vegetation health from late February reveal stress on vegetation in parts of the southwestern U.S. The VHI product becomes less useful as vegetation goes dormant during the winter.
  • The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) is used by the Wildland Fire Assessment System to monitor the risk of wildfires. The late February KBDI showed dry conditions in the southwestern U.S., from Texas to Nevada, and along the southeast and mid-Atlantic coasts. The Forest Service fire danger analysis indicated a high risk of wildfires over the Southwest and from the Carolinas to the eastern Great Lakes states.


Western U.S. Drought

Winter storms that moved across the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies brought beneficial snow and rain to some areas during February. However, on a regional basis, dryness during this month interrupted the wet start to winter in the Pacific Northwest (see graph below left) and continued a dry interruption for a second month across the West region (see graph below right). In the Southwest region, February marked the ninth consecutive month with near to much below-normal precipitation.
Pacific Northwest Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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West Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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The end-of-February mountain snowpack and snow water equivalent observations illustrated this regional pattern, with above-average values in the Pacific Northwest and below-average values across the rest of the Far West. The severe impact from last year's dry rainy season and, for the Southwest, this winter's dryness, is reflected in early March 2002 reservoir levels that were generally still below seasonal norms across the West. Highlights:
Pacific Northwest Region Precipitation, March-February, 1895-2002
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West Region Precipitation, January-February, 1895-2002
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With a wet November-December and a dry January-February, this year's rainy season so far (November-February) has averaged near normal for the West region. Highlights:

  • 12th driest January-February (see graph to left)
  • 33rd driest winter (December-February)
  • 48th driest November-February
  • 21st driest March-February
  • Field observations by ecologists in the eastern Sierra Nevada over the past several months have included unusually high mortality of pinyon pine. For a drought-tolerant species this is indicative of extended severely dry conditions (WRCC).

Southwest Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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Southwest Region Precipitation, March-February, 1895-2002
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February marks the ninth consecutive month with near to much below-normal precipitation for the Southwest region (see graph above left). Winter is the dry season, but the prolonged below-normal precipitation has resulted in the 16th driest 12-month period (see graph above right).

Impacts from the dryness in this normally dry region include an increasing risk of wildfires and lowering reservoir levels. According to The Arizona Republic, parched lakes and reservoirs are nearing their lowest levels in half a century in some parts of drought-stricken Arizona, and a few have vanished as unusually dry conditions gripped the state for a fourth straight winter.

Precipitation Ranks for the
Southwest Region, 2001-2002
Period Rank
Feb 8th driest
Jan-Feb 6th driest
Dec-Feb 9th driest
Nov-Feb 18th driest
Oct-Feb 8th driest
Sep-Feb 4th driest
Aug-Feb 9th driest
Jul-Feb 7th driest
Jun-Feb 6th driest
May-Feb 6th driest
Apr-Feb 10th driest
Mar-Feb 16th driest

Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, February 2002
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Severe to extreme drought conditions continued in the northern Rockies during February (see map to left). Wyoming and Montana had the 11th and 21st driest March-February on record in 2001-2002. The severity and rapid onset of the dryness resulted in statewide Palmer Drought Indices for these states that are comparable to the severity of the worst droughts of the last 100 years (see graphs below).

Wyoming Statewide Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, January 1900 - February 2002
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Montana Statewide Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, January 1900 - February 2002
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Central U.S. Drought

February was unusually dry across parts of the northern and southern Great Plains and Ohio Valley. The Central and South regions had the seventh and 16th driest February on record, respectively.

Central Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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Southern Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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For the West North Central region, February ranked as the 34th driest regionwide, although parts of the region were severely dry. The short-term dryness was most severe from Nebraska to northern Minnesota on the one-month to three-month time scales. South Dakota had the driest winter (December 2001-February 2002) on record, with Nebraska ranking second driest. On a longer time scale, the West North Central region had the tenth driest August-February on record in 2001-2002.

map showing One-Month Standardized Precipitation Index, February 2002
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map showing Three-Month Standardized Precipitation Index, December 2001-February 2002
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Eastern U.S. Drought
February marked the fifth consecutive month with below to much below normal precipitation for the Northeast and Southeast regions. Severe to extreme drought extended all of the way down the east coast, from Maine to Georgia, resulting in significant impacts in many areas. By the end of the month, the threat of wildfires was high from the Carolinas to the eastern Great Lakes.

Northeast Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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Southeast Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998 - February 2002
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The long-term dryness this year in the Northeast region is comparable to the major Northeast drought of the 1960s for seasons from June-February to March-February (see table below right). When precipitation is integrated over the last five months, October 2001-February 2002 ranks as the second driest such period on record, following the record dry October-February of 1930-31 (see graph to right).

Some highlights:

Northeast Region Precipitation, October-February, 1895-96 to 2001-02
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  • As noted by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, precipitation deficits in some coastal areas of the Northeast ranged as high as 15 inches (381 mm) over the July 2001-February 2002 period (see map to right).
  • Many coastal and large urban areas in the Northeast are facing their worst precipitation deficits (July through February) since official climatological record-keeping began more than a century ago (March 1 NRCC report).
  • "If the precipitation deficit continues in these areas, then we could be heading into a serious water supply problem," said Keith Eggleston, senior climatologist at the NRCC.
Northeastern U.S. Precipitation Deficit, July 2001-February 2002
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  • New Jersey is the drought epicenter in the Northeast. Eight of the last 12 months have been drier to much drier than normal (see graph to right), resulting in the record driest period for seasons back to April-February and a sharp decline in the statewide Palmer Drought Index to levels comparable to the 1960's drought.
  • As reported by The New York Times, New Jersey Governor Gov. James E. McGreevey declared a statewide drought emergency in early March.
  • The New Jersey State Climatologist noted that the state has experienced record low ground water and river levels, and surface reservoirs on the order of 40% of capacity, half the seasonal norm.
  • According to the USGS, record low ground water levels and near-record low streamflow have resulted in historic low flows of the Potomac River.
  • The New York Times reported that "forest fires in Maine, usually snuffed by snow, burn to the ground."
  • A water emergency has been declared for the 15 eastern Pennsylvania counties along the Delaware River, and the water utility of Stamford, Connecticut, urged residents to reduce consumption by 15 percent (New York Times).
  • Drought has been blamed for pine beetle infestations along the Atlantic Coast (New York Times).
  • According to an Environmental News Network report, "officials in New Hampshire say that since the drought began late last summer, thousands of dug wells have gone dry. Dug wells are relatively shallow, reaching water 15 or 20 feet below the surface."
New Jersey Statewide Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998-February 2002
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Precipitation Ranks for the
Northeast Region, 2001-2002
Period Rank
Feb 8th driest
Jan-Feb 11th driest
Dec-Feb 6th driest
Nov-Feb 5th driest
Oct-Feb 2nd driest
Sep-Feb 2nd driest
Aug-Feb 2nd driest
Jul-Feb 2nd driest
Jun-Feb 3rd driest
May-Feb 3rd driest
Apr-Feb 2nd driest
Mar-Feb 7th driest

Precipitation averaged across the Southeast region gave February 2002 a rank of 13th driest February on record. With the persistent dryness of the last five months, October 2001-February 2002 ranked as the third driest October-February on record (see graph below left). This marks the fourth consecutive year of drought in much of the Southeast.

graph showing Southeast Region Precipitation, October-February, 1895-96 to 2001-02
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graph showing South Carolina Statewide Palmer Drought Index, January 1900-February 2002
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Highlights:
  • South Carolina is the drought epicenter in the Southeast. Nine of the last 12 months have been drier to much drier than normal (see graph to right), resulting in the record driest period for several seasons from April-February to October-February and a steep intensification of the statewide Palmer Drought Index to levels comparable to the record droughts of the last 100 years (see graph above right).
  • According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at mid-February, statewide water restrictions continued across Georgia through the winter, even though that is supposed to be the state's wet season.
  • On March 1, a severe drought was declared for Georgia's Flint River Basin (GA Dept. of Natural Resources).
  • Georgia soils remained dry, streams and reservoirs were low, and the risk of wildfires was high (GA State Climatology Office).
  • The Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force reported historic low groundwater levels in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, low streamflows statewide, and low reservoirs (VA State Climatology Office).
South Carolina Statewide Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998-February 2002
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Precipitation Ranks for the
Southeast region, 2001-2002
Period Rank
Feb 13th driest
Jan-Feb 19th driest
Dec-Feb 10th driest
Nov-Feb 9th driest
Oct-Feb 3rd driest
Sep-Feb 7th driest
Aug-Feb 4th driest
Jul-Feb 4th driest
Jun-Feb 14th driest
May-Feb 16th driest
Apr-Feb 11th driest
Mar-Feb 28th driest

The drought in the eastern U.S. affected much of the eastern seaboard, from the Appalachians to the coast, from Maine to northern Florida (see maps below).

map showing Palmer Hydrological Drought Index, February 2002
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map showing 6-Month Standardized Precipitation Index, September 2001-February 2002
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This east coast drought region, as a whole, has experienced consistently drier than normal weather for the last five months. The seasons from November 2001-February 2002 back to August 2001-February 2002 are the driest such seasons on record. The current spell of dry weather, on a regional basis, can be traced back to May 1998 (see graph below left). The persistence of the dryness over the last four years, combined with the extreme amplification of the drought over the last five months, has resulted in a regionwide Palmer Hydrological Drought Index that is as severe as any for the last 60 years (see graph below right).

East Coast Drought Region Precipitation Anomalies, January 1998-February 2002
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East Coast Regional Palmer Drought Index, January 1900-February 2002
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Additional Contacts:

Damage due to the drought has been summarized by NOAA and the Office of Global Programs in the Climatological Impacts section of the Climate Information Project. Crop impact information can be found at the USDA NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service) and Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin pages. Drought statements by local National Weather Service Offices can be found at the NWS Hydrologic Information Center. Drought threat assessments and other information can be found at NOAA's Drought Information Center. Additional drought information can be found at the National Drought Mitigation Center, the USDA's National Agricultural Library, the interim National Drought Council, and the NOAA Paleoclimatology Program. The following states have set up web pages detailing current drought conditions and/or their plans to handle drought emergencies:
Colorado - Delaware - Delaware River Basin (DE-NJ-NY-PA) - Florida Panhandle - Georgia - Hawaii - Idaho - Kentucky - Maine - Maryland - Missouri - Montana-1 - Montana-2 - Nebraska - New Jersey-1 - New Jersey-2 - New Jersey-3 - New Mexico - North Carolina - Oklahoma-1 - Oklahoma-2 - Oklahoma-3 - Oregon-1 - Oregon-2 - Pennsylvania-1 - Pennsylvania-2 - South Carolina - Texas - Vermont - Virginia - Washington - Wyoming

For additional information on current and past wildfire seasons please see the National Interagency Fire Center web site or the U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation web site.

NCDC's Drought Recovery Page shows the precipitation required to end or ameliorate droughts and the probability of receiving the required precipitation.

Additional climate monitoring graphics can be found at the Climate Prediction Center's monitoring pages:

Drought conditions on the Canadian prairies can be found at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Drought Watch page.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Drought for February 2002, published online March 2002, retrieved on December 21, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/2002/2.