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National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center releases monthly drought outlook

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) recently released its monthly drought outlook for March 1-May 31, which shows overall conditions improving in the center of the country, with persistent and worsening conditions in the Southeast and across the North. 

CPC expects areas of the Central Plains and parts of the South to see drought conditions improve, while drought conditions are expected to persist and further develop from southeastern New Mexico through southern Texas. 

“Drought coverage in the continental U.S. dipped to a relative low of 19.46 percent in February, before beginning to increase again,” writes Denise Gutzmer in the “Drought Impacts Summary February 2024,” published by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) on March 8. 

“In February, there were 84 impacts describing many water issues, as well as concerns relating to agriculture, plants and wildlife and drought responses,” Gutzmer adds. “Texas had 23 impacts detailing agricultural and water supply matters. Louisiana followed with 14 impacts largely about agricultural topics, like crawfish.”

Drought in the High Plains 

According to NDMC, drought coverage remained similar to January, with abnormally dry or worse conditions decreasing from 50.7 to 50.6 percent, moderate or worse conditions decreasing from 21.8 to 19.2 percent, severe drought conditions decreasing from 5.6 to 5.2 percent and extreme drought or worse conditions decreasing from 0.5 to zero percent between Jan. 30 and Feb. 27.

NDMC’s report notes one-category improvements were made in southwestern and northeastern Colorado, northern and central Kansas, south-central Nebraska, Southern Wyoming, Western and Eastern South Dakota and a two-county area in North Dakota along the Canadian border. 

Like much of Central and Eastern U.S., the High Plains experienced above-normal temperatures, with Colorado and Wyoming experiencing temperatures one to three degrees above normal and areas along the Missouri River experiencing temperatures nine to 15 degrees above normal. 

“Western North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas experienced temperatures of three to eight degrees above normal,” reads the report. “Omaha, Neb. experienced their third-warmest February on record at 39.3 degrees and broke the record on Feb. 28 with a high of 80 degrees.”

Additionally, precipitation in the High Plains was a mixed bag. 

Along the Rocky Mountains, into Western Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, was 0.5 to 1.5 inches above normal, while areas along the Missouri River and in North and South Dakota saw below-normal precipitation up to one inch and Nebraska and Kansas saw below-normal precipitation up to 1.5 inches. 

Drought impacts seen across the U.S.

Drought has recently had the largest impacts on south-central states of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Strong winds and unusually dry weather contributed to a wildfire outbreak across the Texas Panhandle on Feb. 26. One of these blazes, known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, charred more than one million acres in Texas and Oklahoma and is the largest fire in Texas history. 

The Betty’s Way Fire, fueled by winds of 40 miles per hour, burned nearly 110 square miles in Nebraska. 

Although millions of acres of grasslands were destroyed and thousands of cattle likely died, many experts don’t believe the fires will have a significant impact on the U.S. cattle market.

Additionally, years of ongoing drought conditions and water shortages slashed sugarcane harvests in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, causing the Santa Rosa sugar mill to close permanently after 50 years. 

Drought and freezing temperatures delayed the crawfish season in Louisiana and east Texas as well. 

“The crawfish season usually begins in January and stretches until July, but the January harvest was a small fraction of normal,” explains Gutzmer. “The crawfish were also smaller and more difficult to eat.”

The impact of drought conditions has also been felt to the east in Florida, where the 2023 record-dry summer caused the Southwest Florida Water Management District to enact outdoor water restrictions in the Tampa Bay area. 

Up in the midwestern states of Kansas, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin, many farmers are getting concerned as the growing season nears.

“Persistent drought conditions in Iowa continue to worry farmers as the start of the growing season nears, but crop yields last year were better than some farmers dared to hope,” Gutzmer says. “Iowa remains in a record-breaking drought which has been ongoing since May 12, 2020.”

According to University of Nebraska Extension Meteorologist Eric Hunt, the summer of 2024 will depend heavily on weather conditions over the next few months. 

“If we get ample rainfall in the next 90 days, as currently expected, then we should have a reserve of soil moisture to work with should we turn dry for a few weeks in early summer,” he points out. “However, if this spring ends up being on the dry side and soil moisture isn’t meaningfully replenished this spring, this summer has the chance to go sideways in a hurry.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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