Drought - January 2009

Contents Of This Report:
Map showing Palmer Z Index

Top of Page National Overview

Top of Page Detailed Drought Discussion

The weather patternweather pattern for much of January was dominated by an upper-level high pressure ridge over the western U.S. and an upper-air trough over the East. This pattern directed a series of cold fronts east of the Rockies which brought below-normal temperatures and above-average snow cover to parts of the central and eastern United States. Temperatures were above normal across most of the West, but snow cover extent, and mountain snowpack and snow water content, were below average in many areas. The upper-air pattern blocked moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, so much of the country had below-average precipitation during the month. As a result, drought conditions improved in the Southeast to Ohio Valley but intensified in the southern Plains and parts of California (January 27 USDM versus December 30 USDM).

U.S. precipitation anomalies, January 2009 January 27, 2009 U.S. Drought Monitor

January was drier than normal across the central and southeastern portions of Puerto Rico. Dryness extended out to the last 90 days across the southern half of the island, but conditions were not as dry out to 180 days. Most of the stations in Hawaii reported below-normal precipitation in January, resulting in little change to the drought areas. Beneficial rains in December improved the 3-month precipitation totals, but the last 12 months were generally dry. January was wet across much of Alaska, but the precipitation pattern for the last 3 months and last 12 months was mixed. Snowpack over parts of interior and southwestern Alaska was below-average as of the end of January.

By the end of January, the core drought areas included:
  • south central Texas, where extreme to exceptional drought was entrenched;
  • parts of the southeastern U.S. and Ohio Valley, with moderate to extreme drought;
  • portions of the northwestern Great Lakes/Upper Mississippi Valley, with moderate to severe drought;
  • parts of Nevada and California, with moderate to extreme drought; and
  • Hawaii, where severe to extreme drought continued across the central and eastern islands.
For the last week in January, according to USDM statistics, moderate to severe drought affected 10 percent of the Midwest; moderate to extreme drought affected 13 percent of the Southeast, 28 percent of the West, and 57 percent of Hawaii; and moderate to exceptional drought affected 38 percent of the South.

Soil moisture conditions, as estimated by NASA's Mosaic model (surface layers, deeper layers) and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, improved in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest when compared to a month ago, remained the same in the western Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Valley, and deteriorated in the southern Plains and parts of California. Streamflow levels (both modeled and observed) decreased in the Southeast, southern Plains, and western Great Lakes drought areas when compared to a month ago (modeled, observed). Data from the USGS network of wells indicated lingering groundwater impacts across the Carolinas and Georgia and in a few other areas. The impact of drought on vegetation is normally reduced this time of year due to seasonally colder weather, but the satellite-based Vegetation Health Index indicated stress to vegetation in southern Texas and parts of California. February 6, 2009 total column soil moisture percentile from NASA's Mosaic model
January 2009 monthly streamflow percentile from USGS

January 2009 statewide precipitation ranks
Kansas precipitation, January, 1895-2009
November 2008-January 2009 statewide precipitation ranks
January 2009 ranked in the top twelve driest Januaries for Kansas (third driest), Texas (fourth driest), Oklahoma (fifth driest), California (ninth driest), Missouri (12th driest), and New Jersey (12th driest). Of the contiguous states, all but 15 experienced a drier-than-normal January. It was the third consecutive dry month for Kansas, fifth consecutive dry month for Oklahoma and Texas, and sixth consecutive dry month for California. Dryness in the western Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Valley has resulted in the 17th driest August-January for Wisconsin.

December 2008-January 2009 was the second driest such 2-month period for Texas (behind December 1970-January 1971). Numerous wildfires broke out from Texas to southern Missouri, and crops continued to deteriorate. According to February 1 USDA reports, the percent of winter wheat rated in very poor to poor condition was 64 percent in Texas (compared to 46 percent a month ago), 36 percent in Oklahoma (compared to 20 percent a month ago), and ten percent in Kansas. The percent of oats rated very poor to poor was 85 percent in Texas and 42 percent in Oklahoma. For pasture and range lands, the estimates were 71 percent for Texas, 36 percent for Oklahoma, and 34 percent in the east coast state of North Carolina.
Texas precipitation, December-January, 1895-2009

South central Texas (climate division 7) has been especially hard hit. While longer-term (multi-year) indicators are not too severe, 2008-2009 short-term indicators do indicate record to near-record dryness. Texas climate division 7 had the driest September-January on record during September 2008-January 2009, with all of the multi-month periods from February 2008-January 2009 through December 2008-January 2009 ranking in the top ten driest on record (see table to right). The current dry spell started in September of 2007. The last 17 months (September 2007-January 2009) rank as the third driest such 17-month period on record for south central Texas. However, conditions have been drier on a local basis in some areas.

According to National Weather Service (NWS) reports, San Antonio had the driest 17-month September-January period in their 1885-2009 record during 2009 (September 2007-January 2009) with only 16.67 inches (423 mm) of precipitation. It was the third driest such 17-month period in the 1856-2009 record for the weather station at Austin Mabry. The current dry period followed a brief very wet period from January 2007 to August 2007, which was the wettest January-August on record at San Antonio and Austin Bergstrom, and third wettest January-August at Austin Mabry and Del Rio. The brief wet period from January to August 2007 followed a drought from the spring of 2005 through 2006. The following are the top ten driest 17-month September-January periods for San Antonio and Austin Mabry.
Precipitation Ranks for
Texas Division 7, 2008-2009
Period Rank
Jan '09 6th driest
Dec '08-Jan '09 2nd driest
Nov '08-Jan '09 3rd driest
Oct '08-Jan '09 3rd driest
Sep '08-Jan '09 1st driest
Aug '08-Jan '09 3rd driest
Jul '08-Jan '09 8th driest
Jun '08-Jan '09 4th driest
May '08-Jan '09 3rd driest
Apr '08-Jan '09 3rd driest
Mar '08-Jan '09 4th driest
Feb '08-Jan '09 4th driest
Jan '08-Jan '09 4th driest
Dec '07-Jan '09 4th driest
Nov '07-Jan '09 4th driest
Oct '07-Jan '09 3rd driest
Sep '07-Jan '09 3rd driest

Texas climate division 7 precipitation, 17-month period September-January, 1895-2009

San Antonio:
  1. 16.67 inches, September 2007 to January 2009
  2. 18.22 inches, September 1955 to January 1957
  3. 19.03 inches, September 1916 to January 1918
  4. 20.26 inches, September 1909 to January 1911
  5. 22.47 inches, September 1953 to January 1955
  6. 23.29 inches, September 1938 to January 1940
  7. 23.57 inches, September 1900 to January 1902
  8. 23.70 inches, September 1954 to January 1956
  9. 24.00 inches, September 1924 to January 1926
  10. 24.42 inches, September 1995 to January 1997
Austin Mabry:
  1. 19.79 inches, September 1955 to January 1957
  2. 21.75 inches, September 1916 to January 1918
  3. 23.74 inches, September 2007 to January 2009
  4. 25.38 inches, September 1878 to January 1880
  5. 26.86 inches, September 1954 to January 1956
  6. 28.19 inches, September 1938 to January 1940
  7. 28.52 inches, September 1953 to January 1955
  8. 29.00 inches, September 1947 to January 1949
  9. 29.66 inches, September 1905 to January 1907
  10. 29.85 inches, September 1911 to January 1913

Some Pacific weather systems broke through the upper-level ridge to bring beneficial rain and snow to parts of the West in January. But many areas had a dry month, especially California and southern Oregon. The February 1 mountain snowpack was below average in some parts, particularly the Sierra Nevada and northern mountains of California. Persistent below-average precipitation gave the West region the driest February-January on record and the Pacific Northwest the 19th driest February-January. Reservoirs were below average for several western states as long-term precipitation deficits continued. Overall drought conditions in the western U.S. (Rockies westward) deteriorated from December to January. According to the Palmer Drought Index, about 54 percent of the region was in moderate to extreme drought at the end of the month, while the USDM estimated the statistics at about 28 percent in moderate to exceptional drought and about 58 percent experiencing abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions. The differences between the Palmer and USDM statistics are due to the extreme seasonality of precipitation in the West and other hydrologic components in the drought calculations.

Statewide precipitation ranks, February 2008-January 2009 Percent area Western U.S. in moderate to extreme drought and wet spell, based on Palmer Drought Index, January 1996-present
West region precipitation, February-January, 1895-2009 24-Month Standardized Precipitation Index, February 2007-January 2009

California statewide precipitation, 28-Month Periods October-January, 1895-2009
12-Month Standardized Precipitation Index, February 2008-January 2009
California division 2 precipitation, February-January, 1895-2009
California, statewide, had a drier-than-average water year (October-September) for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. The current water year (October 2008-January 2009) also started out dry. While none of these individual water years sets a record, the aggregate precipitation for October 2006-January 2009 (36.08 inches [916 mm] based on preliminary data) virtually ties with October 1988-January 1991 (36.17 inches [919 mm]) as the driest such 28-month period.

A focal point of drought in California has been the Sacramento Drainage. This area (California climate division 2) had the second driest February-January, March-January, and April-January in 2008-2009.

Precipitation Ranks for
California Division 2, 2008-2009
Period Rank
Jan 13th driest
Dec-Jan 11th driest
Nov-Jan 15th driest
Oct-Jan 15th driest
Sep-Jan 10th driest
Aug-Jan 10th driest
Jul-Jan 10th driest
Jun-Jan 8th driest
May-Jan 7th driest
Apr-Jan 2nd driest
Mar-Jan 2nd driest
Feb-Jan 2nd driest

A more detailed drought discussion, provided by the NOAA Regional Climate Centers and others, can be found below.


According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, monthly precipitation totals were below normal across most of the region. Precipitation was less than 50 percent of normal across southern portions of North Carolina, much of South Carolina, Georgia, as well as southern and western Florida. Much of Puerto Rico experienced below-normal precipitation totals for the month. West Palm Beach, Florida had the driest January on record with only 0.11 inch (3 mm) of precipitation. The dryness in South Florida significantly increased the wildfire potential in that region. Rainfall provided some short-term relief from drought conditions across portions of northern Alabama and northern Georgia.

Drought conditions changed very little during the month. The region of extreme drought conditions shrank slightly across northwestern South Carolina and extreme northeast Georgia as a result of heavy precipitation on the 6th and 7th. Streamflow and groundwater levels continued to be low in this region; however, low demand for water resources prevented water supply systems from experiencing problems. Moderate drought conditions continued across western North Carolina, small portions of southwest Virginia, and west central Florida.


As noted by the Southern Regional Climate Center, January proved to be a very dry month in the Southern Region with the majority of stations reporting only 25 percent of normal precipitation or less. Many stations in western and southern Texas reported zero to less than one tenth of an inch (0-2.54 mm) of precipitation. Conditions were equally as dry in western and northern Oklahoma. In east Texas, several stations reported over an inch of precipitation; however, many of these stations were still 1-3 inches (25-76 mm) below the monthly mean. Similar values were observed in Louisiana, Mississippi and southern Arkansas. Counties in northern and eastern Tennessee reported above normal precipitation for the month, as did a small number of counties in northwestern Arkansas. In these regions, precipitation totals varied from 130 to 175 percent of normal. In eastern Tennessee, the excess precipitation should prove helpful in alleviating some of the drought that has taken hold there for several months.

The dry conditions in the Southern Region during the month of January led to a rather significant change in drought conditions, particularly within Texas and Oklahoma. In Texas, anomalously low precipitation values resulted in an expansion of the extreme and exceptional drought from the previous month. In addition, a belt of severe drought developed from southern Oklahoma to central Texas. In Louisiana, dry conditions resulted in a small area of moderate drought along the coast from Vermillion Bay to Barataria Bay. In contrast, anomalously high precipitation in eastern Tennessee resulted in an improvement for much of the eastern third of the state. A small area of moderate drought, however, persisted along the state's eastern boundary.


As explained by the Midwest Regional Climate Center, as a whole, the Midwest experienced a dry January. Precipitation ranged from less than 10 percent of normal in western Missouri to 150 percent of normal in eastern Kentucky and in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, until the storm of January 26-29, the only areas with normal to above normal precipitation were the Michigan Upper Peninsula, western Iowa, and extreme eastern Kentucky. The late January storm brought significant precipitation to an area from the Missouri Ozarks through the Ohio Valley. More than 3 inches (76 mm) of rain fell on most of Kentucky, with more than 5 inches (127 mm) in the extreme south. January snowfall was normal to much above normal from Iowa eastward through Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and from southeastern Missouri east-northeast along the Ohio River. Snowfall was also as much as 200 percent of normal in far northern Minnesota and in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. At the end of the month snow covered most of the Midwest with the exception of western Missouri and southern Kentucky.


As noted by the High Plains Regional Climate Center, little to no precipitation fell across a large area of the High Plains this month as much of the southern portion of the region received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. Drought conditions persisted across western North Dakota, western Wyoming, and southeastern Colorado as these areas also saw little to no precipitation.


As summarized by the Western Regional Climate Center, most of the West had near- or below-normal precipitation, especially the Southwest and California. Many stations in New Mexico measured no precipitation for the month. Unless abnormally wet conditions occur in California over the next couple of months, severe water restrictions will be enforced as the state faces its third straight dry winter. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was at only 60 percent of normal by the end of the month and many California reservoirs were at their lowest level in over 30 years. Snow conditions in the rest of the West, however, fared better with most of the intermountain region at or near normal ... even New Mexico. By contrast, the panhandle of Alaska was quite wet with Juneau recording its second wettest January back to 1948 and the snowiest all-time with 75.2 inches (191 cm). Yakutat set a new January daily record with 7.44 inches (189 mm) falling on the 18th. Although parts of the Pacific Northwest faced severe flooding during the first week of January, the total monthly rainfall was near or slightly below normal as high pressure dominated for the rest of the month.

California: Several municipalities or water districts in California had drought declarations or water restrictions in place during January (source: Drought Impacts Reporter, California Department of Water Resources). A Reservoir Drought Status Product, created by the National Weather Service and California State Climatologist Office, indicated that the worst reservoir conditions were in northern California. The reservoirs (for example, Folsom, Oroville and Shasta) that are tapped by the State Water Project for a multitude of demands (agriculture, environmental, urban, etc.) were near record lows at the end of January. Based on an end-of-January snow survey, snow water content was 49 percent of normal in California's Northern Sierra, 63 percent in the Central Sierra, and 68 percent in the Southern Sierra. This equates to a statewide snowpack water content of 61 percent. California Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow was concerned that the low precipitation and snowpack in January indicated that the state was heading for a third dry year. "We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history", Director Snow said. "It's imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses."

Alaska: According to National Weather Service reports (from information compiled and provided by Audrey Rubel at NOAA NWS Alaska Region Headquarters), in general, precipitation (melted snow and rain) across Alaska was at or above normal for much of the state, with the exception of the central interior and parts of the southwest. Record snow amounts occurred in the southeast.


As noted by the Northeast Regional Climate Center, precipitation totals were below normal this month. The region's average of 2.22 inches (5.64 cm) was 66 percent of the normal January amount. Massachusetts' total (95 percent) was closest to normal. Vermont was the driest state, with only 50 percent of the normal precipitation. While precipitation was below normal, cold temperatures ensured that what fell out of the clouds was mainly in the form of snow or sleet. Many areas of the Northeast saw snow totals that were 10 to 20 inches (25 to 51 cm) above normal.

The precipitation that fell during the last week of January improved drought conditions in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Only portions of Pocohontas, Monroe and Mercer Counties along the West Virginia-Virginia border were in moderate drought when the USDM was updated on February 3, 2009. The same report indicated two small areas of abnormally dry conditions: one in eastern West Virginia and the other in northwestern Pennsylvania. Elsewhere in the Northeast, eastern New York and most of New England were experiencing extremely moist conditions, according to the January 2009 Long Term Palmer Drought Severity Index.

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 2009 Paleoclimatic Perspective.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Drought for January 2009, published online February 2009, retrieved on August 21, 2019 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/200901.