U.S. experiences 12th driest winter on record, crop yield under stress

Weather & Radar USA
3 min readMar 30, 2022


A disappointed farmer looking at small sprouts of sunflower on the field and feeling the threat of a crop failure during the spring season.

The 2021–2022 winter season was the 12th driest winter on record for the United States. The national average rainfall for the season was 5.76 inches, about 1.03 inches below average.

Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor issued on March 8, 2022, showed about 60 percent of the Contiguous U.S. was under drought, up 4 percent from the beginning of February. The likely culprit for the abnormal conditions is the presence of La Niña in the tropical Pacific.

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La Niña is the cool phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation and is defined by the slight cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean waters. The change in temperature is usually only a couple of degrees, but due to the immensity of the region it affects, it can dramatically affect the weather patterns across the globe.

This graphic shows how La Niña generally affects weather conditions in the United States. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Over the Continental U.S., the effects of La Niña usually translate to much drier and warmer winters — conditions that tend to cause significant declines in crops and livestock production for the agricultural industry. Last winter, at least 217.8 million acres of crops across the nation were experiencing drought conditions during mid-March.

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These drought conditions have left many farmers seeking ways to adapt, such as lowering plant density and seeking alternative drought-hearty crops. Unfortunately, this means reduced profitability for this year’s, and potential future, harvest.

The map displays the total acres of corn harvested by county (green circles) for the United States overlaid on the drought conditions (shaded). Larger green circles indicate greater crop yields. Dark shades of red and magenta indicate extreme and exceptional drought conditions, respectively. Image credit: NOAA/NIDIS.

Drought was especially acute over the central and northern Plains with Nebraska and Kansas having their 4th and 5th driest winter on record, respectively. Note the reduced corn harvests (smaller circles) in areas of significant drought in the map above.

In addition to the dry conditions, this past winter was also much warmer than usual. The average temperature between December and March was 34.8°F, 2.5 degrees above normal. This marks the third warmest winter on record. No individual states had below-average temperatures, with Georgia and South Carolina experiencing their 7th warmest winter on record.

Destroyed corn harvest due to drought.

The drought brings indirect and direct impacts to the economy with agriculture among the heaviest hit sectors. Reduced water levels and quality put a huge dent in farms, ranches, and lands. Without proper irrigation, a reduced harvest of important crops such as soy, wheat and hay is likely this season.

As we head into April, long-range climate models predict that La Niña will stick around through the spring. If the forecast pans out, the stretch of warm, dry weather will likely continue through May.



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