Virginia Water Status Report as of the End of March 2016, Plus a Look at Drought Nationally

Here is the Virginia Water Central News Grouper’s monthly water-status report on precipitation, stream flow, and drought, as of the end of March 2016.  The Virginia Water Resources Research Center thanks the agencies mentioned below for providing the data and maps used in this post.  Icons for precipitation, stream flow, and drought are by George Wills of Blacksburg, Va. (  For previous monthly water status reports, please see this link:

Precipitation Icon by George Wills
Here are National Weather Service (NWS) preliminary (still needing verification) precipitation totals for March 2016 at 11 Virginia or near-Virginia locations, along with the normal for this month of the year at each location.  Also shown are the precipitation totals at each location for the previous 12 months and the normal annual precipitation for each location.  All values are in inches.

Location March 2016


Normal for Month Apr. 2015-Mar. 2016 Precipitation


Normal Annual Precipitation
Blacksburg 2.57 3.64 50.73 40.89
Bluefield1 1.46** 3.51 39.64 39.63
Bristol2 0.94** 3.44 43.68 41.01
Charlottesville3 1.49 3.66 48.20 42.71
Danville 2.33 4.11 55.31 44.41
Lynchburg 3.36 3.58 48.29 41.57
Norfolk 3.46 3.68 55.10 46.53
Richmond 1.02 4.04 46.84 43.60
Roanoke 2.25 3.46 56.80 41.25
Wallops Island4 1.87 4.00 43.79 40.84
Washington-Dulles Airport5 1.45 3.38 40.15 41.54

**Record low for March for the location.

Location notes
1 – The Bluefield location is the Mercer County, W. Va., airport, near the Va.-W.Va. state line.
2- The Bristol location Tri-Cities Airport in Tenn., about 20 miles from Bristol, Va./Tenn.
3 – The Charlottesville location is the (Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.
4 – Wallops Island is in Accomack County.
5 – Washington-Dulles Airport is in Loudoun County.

Precipitation sources:  Climate pages of the following National Weather Service Forecast Offices:
Blacksburg, Va. (;
Morristown, Tenn. (;
Baltimore-Washington (; and
Wakefield, Va. (

The normal values used by the National Weather Service (NWS) in these provisional reports are based on the period from 1981 to 2010.  The National Climatic Data Center released these normal values in July 2011.  For information on the normal values, see the National Climatic Data Center Web page at

For graphs of precipitation, visit the Southeast Regional Climate Center (Chapel Hill, N.C) at, where you can find maps of total precipitation and percent of normal precipitation for the past 7, 30, 60, or 90 days; or the NWS’ Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service at for a map of precipitation nationwide or by state, with capability to show county boundaries, and archives available for specific days, months, or years.  Shown below are the Southeast Regional Climate Center’s preliminary maps of the percent-of-normal precipitation for the previous 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days, through March 31, 2016.




Stream flow icon by George Wills

According to the U.S. Geological Survey WaterWatch for Virginia (online at, monthly average stream flow values for March 2016 at 150 stream gages in Virginia and just beyond the state border were in the normal range at 53% of gages, above normal at 3%, below normal at 32%, and much below normal at 12%.  The color-coded, flow-percentile map for this period is shown below.  The color codes/percentile classes used by USGS to compared flows to historical records for the month are shown in the chart below the map.

Streams March

KEEP on deskto - Stream flow code graph

An overall look at Virginia streamflow conditions is provided in the USGS WaterWatch summary plot of 7-day average streamflow conditions.  Below is the summary plot for 87 Virginia sites during the 45-day period ending March 31, 2016, accessed at on 4/1/16.

Streams plot

Water status icons groundwater by George Wills

Information on current groundwater levels in Virginia monitoring wells is available from the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System, online at; and from the USGS Climate Response Network, online at (at that page, you can find a national map showing the status of groundwater monitoring wells compared to historical values).

Drought Watch icon by George Wills DROUGHT IN VIRGINIA

The weekly National Drought Monitor map from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ( for March 29, 2016, showed Virginia as drought-free, which has been the case since Drought Monitor report for January 26, 2016.  Drought Monitor categories are as follows:
D0 = abnormally dry;
D1 = moderate drought;
D2 = severe drought;
D3 = extreme drought;
D4 = exceptional drought.

The Drought Monitor notes that it “focuses on broad-scale conditions [and] local conditions may vary.”

For comparison, here are Virginia ratings from previous Drought Monitors from about one month, two months, three months, and one year ago:
3/1/16 – drought free;
1/26/16 – drought free;
12/29/15 – 0.01% abnormally dry;
3/31/15 – 14% abnormally dry.

The Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, a collaboration of state and federal agencies, issued its most recent Drought Status Report on March 15, 2016.  A link to the report, along with other current drought-status information, is available online at  The Task Force’s reports typically include information from some or all of the following agencies: University of Virginia Climatology Office, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Virginia departments of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Health, and Environmental Quality.  The next report is scheduled for May 12, 2016.

The Drought Monitoring Task Force also produces a daily map rating drought-status indicators.  Shown below is daily map for March 31, 2016.  The status-indicator abbreviations on that map are as follows: GW = groundwater levels, Prcp = precipitation deficits, Res – reservoir storage, and Flow = stream flow conditions.  For each region of Virginia, the indicators are color coded for “normal,” “watch,” “warning,” or “emergency conditions.”  Any given day’s current map and more information on drought status in Virginia are available the Task Force Web site listed above.

Drought VA Mar31

The March 29, 2016, U.S. Drought Monitor rated 35.3% of the United States (including all or parts of 38 states, plus Puerto Rico) as being abnormally dry or worse; [OMIT THIS TIME this is the lowest nationwide percentage of abnormally dry-or-worse conditions since the week of August 3, 2010].  The Drought Monitor rated 4.9% of the country (including all or parts of 8 states, plus Puerto Rico), as being in severe drought or worse (categories D2, D3, and D4); this is the lowest nationwide percentage of severe-or-worse drought since 4.8% for the week of October 19, 2010.

The nationwide percentages for abnormally dry or worse (D0-D4) and severe or worse (D2-D4) in the previous three months and one year ago were as follows:
3/1/16 – 28.6% abnormally dry or worse; 6.5% severe drought or worse;
1/26/16 – 25.3% abnormally dry or worse; 7.1% severe drought or worse;
12/29/15 – 29.4% abnormally dry or worse; 9.7% severe drought or worse;
3/31/15 – 54.0% abnormally dry or worse; 15.5% severe drought or worse.

In California, 73% of the state was categorized by the 3/29/16 report as being in severe-or-worse drought.  This was the lowest severe-or-worse percentage for California since 67% for the week of June 18, 2013.  The Golden State had over 80% of its area categorized in severe-or-worse drought every week from June 25, 2013 to March 8, 2016; over 90% in those categories from February 2014 to mid-December 2015; and 100% from May 13—July 29, 2014.  California’s current drought began in late 2011 to early 2012.


For a look ahead, the National Weather Service/Climate Prediction Center’s “U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook” is available at  Shown below is the outlook map available on March 31, 2016.

Drought outlook US Mar31

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