Virginia Water Status Report as of the End of January 2017, 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 January 2017.  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:


Here are National Weather Service (NWS) preliminary (still needing verification) precipitation totals for January 2017 at 11 Virginia or near-Virginia locations, along with the “normal” (three-decade average) 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 annual precipitation normals for each location.  All values are in inches.

Location January 2017 Observed


Monthly Normal February 2016-

January 2017 Observed

Annual Normal
Blacksburg 4.50 3.08 44.00 40.89
Bluefield1 4.25 2.90 37.23 39.63
Bristol2 2.56 3.37 35.31 41.01
Charlottesville3 2.60 2.77 34.32 42.71
Danville 3.88 3.42 48.17 44.41
Lynchburg 3.78 3.14 43.51 41.57
Norfolk 4.41 3.40 68.65 46.53
Richmond 4.29 3.04 53.74 43.60
Roanoke 4.10 2.92 47.92 41.25
Wallops Island4 4.79 3.04 58.59 40.84
Washington-Dulles Airport5 2.73 2.68 33.59 41.54

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 January 31, 2017.  Please note that the scale is different for the 30-day map.]



According to the U.S. Geological Survey WaterWatch for Virginia (online at, monthly average stream flow values for January 2017 at 148 stream gages in Virginia and just beyond the state border were in the normal range at about 80% of gages, below normal at about 3%, and above normal at about 17%.  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.


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 88 Virginia sites during the 45-day period ending January 31, 2017, accessed at on February 1, 2017.




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).

04-icon-drought DROUGHT IN VIRGINIA

The weekly National Drought Monitor map from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ( for January 31, 2017, showed about 30% of Virginia as “abnormally dry,” covering the northern and central Piedmont plus parts of several southwester counties on or near the border with North Carolina.  The January 31 report also showed about 0.5% of Virginia in “moderate drought,” located in Arlington and Fairfax counties.

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:
1/3/17 – 70.9% abnormally dry or worse, 15.4% moderate drought;
12/6/16 – 68.7% abnormally dry or worse, 27.7% moderate drought or worse, 0.8% severe drought;
11/1/16 – 28.9% abnormally dry or worse, 3.4% moderate drought;
2/2/16 – drought-free.

The Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, a collaboration of state and federal agencies, issued its most recent (as of 2/1/17) Drought Status Report on January 17, 2017.  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 Task Force is next scheduled to meet on February 9, 2017.  Following is a short excerpt from the January 17 report: “Although precipitation was near normal over most of Virginia during the last month, drier than normal conditions remain over much of the state.  The driest areas cover portions of northern Virginia.  Based upon the current three-month precipitation forecast (see below), the [Task Force] agreed to closely monitor conditions during January and meet again in February, 2017.  If the current dry conditions, especially in northern Virginia, have not lessened, the Task Force will discuss the need for a message to water users across Virginia to raise awareness of the long-term water supply impact of dry winter conditions.”

The Task Force also produces a map rating drought-status indicators.  As of February 1, 2017, the map’s database was undergoing revisions, so the daily maps are not available for now.


The January 31, 2017, U.S. Drought Monitor rated 28.3% of the United States (including all or parts of 43 states) as being abnormally dry or worse.  The Drought Monitor rated about 3.2% of the country (including parts of 21 states), as being in severe drought or worse (categories D2, D3, and D4); this is the lowest nationwide percentage of severe-or-worse drought since 2.3% for the week of October 5, 2010.  (The highest percentage in the severe-or-worse categories reported by the Drought Monitor since it began in 2000 was 38.5% of the country for the week of August 7, 2012.)

The nationwide percentages for abnormally dry or worse (categories D0-D4) and severe or worse (categories D2-D4) in the previous three months and one year ago were as follows:
1/3/17 – 40.3% abnormally dry or worse, 7.2% severe drought or worse;
12/6/16 – 47.3% abnormally dry or worse, 11.7% severe drought or worse;
11/1/16 – 41.6% abnormally dry or worse, 9.2% severe drought or worse;
2/2/16 – 26.1% abnormally dry or worse, 7.1% severe drought or worse.

In one state, 50 percent or more of the state was rated by the January 31 Drought Monitor as in severe-or-worse drought:
Connecticut, 76%.

In California, 20% of the state was rated on 1/31/17 as being in severe-or-worse drought.  This severe-or-worse rating is the lowest for the Golden State since the week of November 13, 2012.  California’s current drought began in late 2011 to early 2012.  Following is some more information on California’s drought recovery, from the comments section of the January 31 Drought Monitor:
“…Despite improvements across much of the state, the longer-term impacts of the drought are still being observed in relation to groundwater supplies in various California locations.  In southern California, the San Diego County Water Authority issued a statement declaring that drought conditions in San Diego County have ended.  It should be noted, however, that the state of California is still officially in drought under Governor Brown’s drought declaration (1/17/14).”


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 February 1, 2017.


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