How Dry Is It?
Abnormally Dry Conditions
At times, below normal precipitation will lead to a lack of ground water and worsening drought conditions in Arkansas. Check out the latest conditions below.
 
Drought Status/A Look Ahead
 
Please Note: Given continuing drought conditions, the National Weather Service in Little Rock updated this page every week from May through October. Now that it is winter, and the growing season has ended (vegetation is mostly dormant), future updates will be less frequent (monthly). The next update is scheduled for February 1, 2013.

 

Percent of normal rainfall in December, 2012. Down the stretch in 2012, any drought relief in Arkansas was generally confined to the southeast half of the state. That was the case in December.
In the picture: Percent of normal rainfall in December, 2012.

 

The Cost of the Drought

According to a study by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, ranchers in Arkansas lost at least $128 million due to drought conditions from August, 2011 through July, 2012. The losses were mostly the result of a short supply of hay and rising hay costs. It became too expensive to feed cattle, and ranchers were forced to sell their cows.

At one time, 85% of pastures were in poor or very poor condition. This led to lackluster hay production and the smallest hay yields since the mid 1950s. While shipping hay from surrounding areas was an option, red fire ants complicated the process. Many hay growers in the southeast United States live in fire ant quarantined counties. Despite good intentions, hay could not be transported from a quarantined region to a non-quarantined region unless the hay was certified as fire ant free and stored properly (above ground).

While the cattle industry suffered, most crops survived the drought. Early planting due to a mild winter and ample supplemental water through irrigation led to good plant development and decent yields.

 

Little Rock (Pulaski County) and El Dorado (Union County) had above normal totals to end the year, and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) was close (95 percent of normal). Amounts in the north and west were pretty much below normal across the board.

 

Precipitation in December, 2012
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 2.85 3.17 -0.32 90%
Harrison (NC AR) 2.08 3.20 -1.12 65%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 3.69 4.77 -1.08 77%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 2.75 3.29 -0.54 84%
Little Rock (C AR) 5.60 4.97 +0.63 113%
West Memphis (EC AR) 3.11 5.42 -2.31 57%
Texarkana (SW AR) 4.46 5.05 -0.59 88%
El Dorado (SC AR) 6.06 5.18 +0.88 117%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 5.19 5.44 -0.25 95%

 

The south and east also benefitted from the last big rain in September (October and November were dry months). El Dorado (Union County), Jonesboro (Craighead County), Little Rock (Pulaski County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and West Memphis (Crittenden County) received more than one and a half times (150 percent) the normal rainfall.

 

Some of these same areas were hit by three to more than six inches of rain in late August (the 30th/31st) courtesy of the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

Forty eight hour rainfall through 700 am CDT on 09/01/2012.
In the picture: Forty eight hour rainfall through 700 am CDT on 09/01/2012.

 

Precipitation was not as appreciable in the north/west. Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) received more than double the rainfall of Harrison (Boone County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and Texarkana (Miller County) from August through December.

 

Precipitation (August Through December, 2012)
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 14.00 19.82 -5.82 71%
Harrison (NC AR) 11.87 18.76 -6.89 63%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 17.97 19.53 -1.56 92%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 9.66 18.69 -9.03 52%
Little Rock (C AR) 21.21 20.96 +0.25 101%
West Memphis (EC AR) 15.07 20.48 -5.41 74%
Texarkana (SW AR) 11.78 21.14 -9.36 56%
El Dorado (SC AR) 22.47 21.48 +0.99 105%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 25.90 20.54 +5.36 126%

 

At Texarkana (Miller County), the yearly deficit was more than seventeen inches. Deficits from twelve to sixteen inches were common in much of the north/west, and were less than six inches in parts of the southeast.

 

Precipitation in 2012 
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 34.29 48.22 -13.93 71%
Harrison (NC AR) 29.53 44.14 -14.61 67%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 33.57 48.10 -14.53 70%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 33.94 45.46 -11.52 75%
Little Rock (C AR) 42.25 49.75 -7.50 85%
West Memphis (EC AR) 39.08 52.23 -13.15 75%
Texarkana (SW AR) 32.07 49.65 -17.58 65%
El Dorado (SC AR) 44.41 52.92 -8.51 84%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 45.69 51.15 -5.46 89%

 

Long Term Rain Deficits

In 2011/2012, the least amount of rain was measured in the southwest. At Texarkana (Miller County), 62.76 inches of rain fell. This is 36.54 inches below normal! A short two hour drive northward along Interstate 30, Little Rock (Pulaski County) got 102.48 inches of precipitation, which is 2.98 inches above normal.

 

Precipitation deficits in 2012.
In the picture: Precipitation deficits in 2012. The year began with a spike (upward) of rain in March followed by the driest April through July period in Arkansas history. Areas of heavy rain returned to southern and eastern sections of the state in August and September. There was a downward trend across much of the region in October and November, with closer to normal totals in December.
 

In late December, a severe (D2) to extreme (D3) drought affected most areas north and west of Texarkana (Miller County), Morrilton (Conway County) and Hardy (Sharp County).

 

A severe to extreme drought was noted in the northwest half of Arkansas on 12/27/2012.
Farther south and east, D0/D1 conditions were common, with no drought in all or part of 24 counties in the southeast (24% of the state).
 
Drought Conditions (Percent Area)
Category Coverage
None 23.88%
D0-D4 76.12%
D1-D4 54.72%
D2-D4 41.50%
D3-D4 24.37%
D4 0.00%
In the picture: A severe to extreme drought was noted in the northwest half of Arkansas on 12/27/2012.

 

 

The ground water supply was highest and soil moisture was near normal in southern and eastern Arkansas. Moisture was subpar in the north/west.

Soil moisture on 12/31/2012.
In the picture: Soil moisture on 12/31/2012. Values greater than or equal to 30 percent are considered at/above normal, with below normal values under 30 percent.

 

Streamflow as of 01/01/2013.

Streamflow was also average or a little on the plus side in the south/east. Any below normal values were mostly in the north/west.

In the picture: Streamflow as of 01/01/2013. The 25th to 74th percentile is considered normal. The graphic is courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.

 

Overall, area lakes were in decent shape. Levels were generally 60 to 80 percent of conservation pool elevations. Water was slowly falling in the north/west, and slowly rising in the south/east.

 

Lake Information on 12/31/2012
Location 7 AM Level (ft) Conservation Pool
Beaver Lake (NW AR) 1108.9 1120.4
Table Rock Lake (SW MO) 905.1 915.0
Bull Shoals (NC AR) 645.6 654.0
Norfork Lake (NC AR) 541.1 553.8
Greers Ferry (NC AR) 454.8 461.4
Nimrod Lake (C AR) 342.8 342.0
Gillham Lake (SW AR) 497.4 502.0
Millwood Lake (SW AR) 259.9 259.2
Note: "NW" is northwest, "SW" is southwest, "NC" is north central and "C" is central. 

 

On December 31st, there was a low wildfire danger and no burn bans declared in any of the 75 Arkansas counties.

 

 

While parts of the state are headed in the right direction, it will take more rain to wipe out this drought that is the result of the driest April through July in state history.

 

Precipitation (April Through July, 2012)
Site Amount Normal +/- % of Normal
Fayetteville (NW AR) 7.91 18.70 -10.79 42%
Harrison (NC AR) 6.40 16.39 -9.99 39%
Jonesboro (NE AR) 5.67 16.92 -11.25 34%
Fort Smith (WC AR) 9.62 17.35 -7.73 55%
Little Rock (C AR) 6.43 16.93 -10.50 38%
West Memphis (EC AR) 12.29 18.18 -5.89 68%
Texarkana (SW AR) 9.18 16.92 -7.74 54%
El Dorado (SC AR) 7.98 17.60 -9.62 45%
Pine Bluff (SE AR) 10.11 17.49 -7.38 58%

 

Driest April Through July Periods in Arkansas
Year Amount
2012 9.03"
1896 10.75"
1901 10.78"
1926 11.30"
1936 11.62"
1925 11.68"
1914 11.70"
1934 11.71"
1998 11.96"
1988 12.13"

 

It was the second warmest on record with an average temperature of 63.40 degrees. Due to below normal readings in October and November, 1921 took over the top slot (63.70 degrees).

 

Warmest Years in Arkansas
Year Avg. Temperature
1921 63.70°
2012 63.40°
1998 63.10°
1938 63.00°
1954 62.90°
1933 62.70°
1927 62.60°
1925 62.50°
1896 62.30°
1911 62.30°
1934 62.30°

 

The drought outlook through March, 2013.
In the picture: The drought outlook through March, 2013.
 

As far as the future weather pattern, neutral conditions (close to normal water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) are expected to hold through the winter and early spring. Given a neutral scenario, research through the Climate Prediction Center indicates a bias toward above normal precipitation from January through March, 2013. This is especially true in the southern and eastern counties. 

 

 

Precipitation forecast for January through March, 2013 (courtesy of the Climate Prediction Center).
In the picture: Precipitation forecast for January through March, 2013 (courtesy of the Climate Prediction Center). Above normal (A) rain is favored from the mid-South into the Tennessee Valley. Below (B) normal rain is expected in portions of California and Nevada.
 

During this time frame, weather systems are usually more frequent, and precipitation can be substantial if the right ingredients come together (i.e. clashing warm and cold air masses, a slowly moving or stalled front and ample moisture). This would add to the ground water supply, especially considering that vegetation is dormant and consuming less moisture.

It will take several big rain events to erase precipitation deficits in the north/west. There may not be enough water to end the drought completely.

It must be mentioned that the Arctic Oscillation (AO) could play a significant role in the coming few months. To end 2012, the AO was largely negative. High pressure over the Arctic Ocean (from 20 degrees N latitude poleward) and lower than normal pressure in the mid-latitudes (where we live) created weaker westerlies over Canada. This allowed cold air intrusions into the United States, and was a contributor to a Christmas snowstorm locally. Last winter (2011/2012), the AO was positive, and it was mild with little snow/ice. Unfortunately, the AO cannot be used as a long term indicator because it varies every few weeks.


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