Drought - January 2008

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Contents Of This Report:
Map showing Palmer Z Index

Top of Page National Overview

Top of Page Detailed Drought Discussion

A very active weather pattern during January brought rain and snow to much of the western U.S., with heavy amounts in some places. The fronts and low pressure systems regenerated across the eastern third of the country, bringing beneficial precipitation to the Midwest and some of the Southeast drought areas. However, large parts of the nation, especially across the Plains and mid-Atlantic regions, had below-normal precipitation during the month.
January 2008 U.S. precipitation anomalies

Parts of Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii were drier than normal during January. But 3-month precipitation totals were above normal in Hawaii due to abundant rainfall during the previous month. A large swath from interior Alaska to the southeast panhandle was drier than normal for November-January, and snowpack across the northeastern third of Alaska was below normal as of February 1.

The January moisture resulted in improving drought conditions across much of the West, with extreme drought being eliminated and moderate to severe drought areas shrinking according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (as seen on maps of the February 5 USDM vs. January 1 USDM). By early February, 44% of the West was in moderate to exceptional drought, as defined by the federal USDM. Even though mountain snowpacks improved considerably, reservoirs in most western states (except Arizona and Colorado) still remained below average.

February 5, 2008 U.S. Drought Monitor map

January rains improved drought conditions in the Southeast, mainly in the southern portions of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. In spite of the fronts that moved across the Southeast, the core drought area still had below-normal precipitation during the month. As of early February, 72% of the Southeast remained in moderate to exceptional drought, as defined by the USDM. It will take several very wet weather systems to erase the 20+ inch deficits that have accumulated over the last 12 months and longer.
Dry weather in Texas continued a pattern that began four months earlier, when conditions changed from unusually wet (wettest January-September on record for the state) to a string of four straight drier-than-average months. October 2007-January 2008 ranked as the tenth driest October-January on record statewide. By the first week of February, moderate to severe drought had developed in large parts of the state, which aided in the development of numerous early-season wildfires.
Standardized Precipitation Index, November 2007-January 2008

At the northern end of the Great Plains, three states (North Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska) had the tenth driest, or drier, January. Statewide precipitation has been below normal in North Dakota for the last seven months, with the state having the third driest November-January on record.
Standardized Precipitation Index, February 2007-January 2008

Several areas from coastal North Carolina to eastern Mississippi had the driest February-January on record. For North Carolina, February 2007-January 2008 ranked as the driest such 12-month period on record statewide. It was the second driest February-January for Tennessee, third driest for Alabama, and fourth driest for Georgia and South Carolina.
North Carolina precipitation, February-January, 1895-2008
The persistent dryness has depleted soil moisture, ravaged pastures, and dried up streams, wells, and springs. Voluntary and mandatory water restrictions continued in many communities in the Southeast and in California. Soil moisture (root zone and top 6 feet) was most severely affected in the mid-Atlantic to southern Plains, with dry conditions also apparent in parts of the northern Plains, western Great Lakes, and Far West. Streamflow (both modeled and observed) averaged below normal across the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, northern Great Plains, and parts of the West. Groundwater levels were low in many areas.

A more detailed drought discussion can be found below.


The media (AP, 1/23) reported in January that "nuclear reactors across the Southeast could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the huge amounts of cooling water they need to operate. Utility officials said such shutdowns probably wouldn't result in blackouts. But they could lead to shockingly higher electric bills for millions of Southerners, because the region's utilities could be forced to buy expensive replacement power from other energy companies."

According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, some rain and snow fell across the Southeast in January. But despite that precipitation, much of the region remained locked in drought. Southern and central Georgia had a little relief early in the period, but northern and central Alabama, northwest Georgia and much of North Carolina remained in the Exceptional Drought category. This has been persistent for several months, and streamflows throughout central Georgia were considerably below normal, while rivers in the Carolinas and the Gulf coast of Florida were at low levels seen less than 10% of the time based on the period of record.


As noted by the Southern Regional Climate Center, precipitation in the Southern Region was generally below normal, with the exception of the coastal regions, where above normal monthly totals were observed. In addition, there were some small pockets of above normal precipitation in southwestern Texas and northwestern Tennessee. The driest areas of the Southern Region were observed in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, southern Oklahoma, and northern Texas. The majority of stations in those areas reported less than one half of one inch for the month, with many others recording no precipitation at all. Similar, but less severe, values were observed in southwestern Texas and in northern Arkansas, with most stations reporting only 5-25 percent of normal. In fact, most of Arkansas received half of the monthly average or less, except in the extreme east, where monthly totals ranged between 50 and 70 percent of normal. Conditions were also quite dry in northern Louisiana, where only 25 to 50 percent of the monthly average precipitation was received. Similar values were also found in central Mississippi. Along the Gulf Coast, where precipitation was typically at or above normal, monthly totals ranged from 3 to 9 inches, with the highest values occurring from the upper Texas coast to the Mississippi/Alabama border. The highest positive precipitation anomalies for the month were observed along the central Texas coast, where precipitation totals for the month ranged from approximately 150 to 180 percent of normal. In the case of the latter, Palacious Municipal Airport received 5.63 inches for the month, or 177 percent of the monthly average.

As of January 29, all six states in the Southern Region were experiencing abnormally dry conditions (D0), with four states (Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee) experiencing drought (D1 or greater) conditions. Areas of D0 include northern and central Mississippi, northern Louisiana, west central Tennessee, southern Oklahoma and much of western Texas. Areas along the coast, where precipitation was above normal for the month of January, were clear of any drought or abnormally dry depictions.

In Oklahoma, there was a small area of moderate (D1) drought in the panhandle. However, it made up only 8.5 percent of the state's total area. As of February 1, 2008, an Oklahoma burn ban had been issued for the three panhandle counties and many counties of the south central and southeastern portions of the state.

In Texas, there were three pockets of moderate drought that cumulatively covered one quarter of the state. First, there was a small area of D1 in the extreme northwest corner of the panhandle. A second small area was located just southeast of the panhandle. The third and largest area of D1 drought in Texas was located mostly in climate divisions 6 (Edwards Plateau), 7 (South Central) and 9 (Southern), spanning over three dozen counties.

In Mississippi, moderate and severe drought conditions existed in the northeast and east central counties of the state. Over 70 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry conditions, of which 16.2 percent was in moderate drought and only 4.2 percent in severe drought. The latter was located mostly in the counties of: Itawamba, Monroe, Lowndes and Noxubee. Drought conditions continued to plague the eastern half of Tennessee. As of January 29, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 59.9 percent of the state was experiencing severe to exceptional drought. This drought was mainly confined to the central and eastern portions of the state. A large portion of exceptional drought was located in the southern and central counties, covering a total of 17.9 percent of the state. Extreme drought, which made up a little over 20 percent of the state's total area, was located around the periphery of the previously mentioned exceptional drought and in the eastern counties that border North Carolina and Virginia.

According to the USDA, end-of-January state reports indicated that the winter wheat crop was suffering in the southern Plains states, with 61% of the crop in poor to very poor condition in Texas, 30% in Oklahoma, and 25% in Kansas.

NOAA observations noted that at the beginning of February, Lake Meredith in the Texas Panhandle had reached a record low level at 50.15 feet. At 48 feet, portable pumps must be brought in to get water from the lake as the lake level will be below the pumps. Lake Meredith is a major supplier of water to the Texas Panhandle.


As explained by the Midwest Regional Climate Center, January was a wet month for areas around the Great Lakes. Precipitation was heaviest in central to northern Illinois and through northern Indiana, most of which occurred during the first 10 days of the month. Dry weather persisted across Minnesota as only a fraction of the normal precipitation fell. Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio received near normal precipitation.

Snowfall across the region varied. Snowfall was well above normal across Iowa, northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. The largest accumulation of snow occurred in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where more than 60 inches fell during January. Much of that resulted from lake effect snowfall as low pressure exited the region to the east. Little to no snow fell across much of Missouri, southern Illinois, northwest Minnesota and Kentucky.


As noted by the High Plains Regional Climate Center, January 2008 was dry for portions of central/western Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and the Dakotas. Colorado was a state divided. The mountain regions of west-central Colorado received 150-200% of normal precipitation, while the high plains of eastern Colorado received next to nothing. Areas of western Wyoming also won out, with 150-200% of normal precipitation. Moose, WY (near Yellowstone) saw an impressive 5.93 inches of liquid precipitation, helping to fill a rainfall deficit that accumulated there in 2007.

In North Dakota, the January state average precipitation was 0.08 inch which was well below the 1971-2000 normal state average of 0.50 inch. The first 10 days of January were dry with very little snowfall, while the middle had scattered snow. The last few days of January were relatively dry except for the 28th and 29th during which snow fell in some areas. Nearly the entire state had 50% or less percent of normal precipitation. January 2008 ranked as the 2nd driest January in the past 114 years.

Continued degradation occurred in portions of western North Dakota as January remained dry. Some categorical improvement was expected in western portions of the Dakotas through April 2008, according to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released January 17. An even higher likelihood of categorical improvement was expected in western Wyoming. Persisting drought conditions were expected in north central North Dakota, with possible intensification in portions of southwest Kansas and southeast Colorado.


As summarized by the Western Regional Climate Center, precipitation was near to slightly below normal in the Pacific Northwest and intermountain regions, and further below normal in parts of eastern Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. New Mexico was quite dry except in its northwest. California, Arizona, southern Utah, and western Colorado were wetter than usual -- not a characteristic of La Niña winters. The San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado have built a much above average snowpack. Some locations in California measured more precipitation in January 2008 than the entire rainy season of 2006-07. Santa Barbara, CA measured 10.44" (265.2 mm) for the month, exceeding the previous 19-month total of 9.83" (249.7 mm). Heavy snow in the mountains of the West pushed the snowpack to near or above normal in nearly all locations by February 1st. In the Sierra Nevada, the snow water equivalent increased from 53% of normal at the beginning of the month to about 115% by the end. In contrast to Santa Barbara, Denver received just 0.08" (2.0 mm) for the month, their 4th driest January on record.

The NOAA Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center reported that the essence of the current cold season in central Alaska (the Fairbanks area) has been a relatively narrow range of temperature compared to the huge fluctuations that are possible. The most conspicuous feature of this winter through mid-January had been the lack of snowfall. This changed on January 16 as westerly flow from the Bering Sea broke into the area and brought extensive heavy snowfall during the 16th and 17th. Most of Fairbanks had 6 to 8 inches of snowfall, while some places in the surrounding highlands, such as the Ester Dome weather observation station at 2150 feet elevation, had over 10 inches of new snowfall. This was followed by a strong rise in temperature, reaching above freezing on the 22nd. Also on the 22nd, the passage of a strong weather front brought winds close to gale force and some rain. These events served to form a strong crust on the snowpack, something that had not been seen at Fairbanks before this season.

Overall, January averaged warmer and wetter than normal at Fairbanks, with snowfall 36 percent higher than normal. But total snowfall for the winter (as of the end of January) was only 34.1 inches, which is only 64 percent of the average total of 52.8 inches for September through January.


As noted by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, precipitation totals were 75% of normal in the Northeast. Maryland, Delaware, the eastern third of Pennsylvania, northwest New Jersey and parts of the Hudson Valley of New York saw about half of their normal January precipitation. It was the 10th driest January since 1895 in Delaware and the 12th driest in Maryland. West Virginia was the wettest state, with only 103% of the normal January precipitation. The southernmost part of Maryland's Eastern Shore was still experiencing severe drought conditions while Delaware, southern Maryland and the southern tip of West Virginia continued to be under moderate drought conditions at the end of January.

Below normal precipitation coupled with above normal temperatures led to a lack of significant snow events. In fact, Central Park had no measurable snow for the month of January. This was only the second time since 1898 that no snow was recorded at this location. The last time was 1933.

Top of Page State/Regional/National Moisture Status

A detailed review of drought and moisture conditions is available for all contiguous U.S. states, the nine standard regions, and the nation (contiguous U.S.):

Alabama Arizona Arkansas California Colorado Connecticut
Delaware Florida Georgia Idaho Illinois Indiana
Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Missouri Montana
Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico New York
North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania
Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah
Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming

Northeast Region East North Central Region Central Region
Southeast Region West North Central Region South Region
Southwest Region Northwest Region West Region
Map showing the nine U.S. standard regions
Contiguous U.S.

Top of Page Pre-Instrumental Perspective

There is no January 2008 Paleoclimatic Perspective.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Drought for January 2008, published online February 2008, retrieved on September 20, 2017 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/200801.