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Home Community Agriculture National Integrated Drought Information System Gives Update for USVI

National Integrated Drought Information System Gives Update for USVI

A cracked soil photo taken at a cattle farm on St Croix. This type of soil is called a vertisol, which is high in clay minerals and is prone to cracking in the dry season. (Photo by Mike Morgan of UVI Agriculture Experiment Station)

Drought conditions are expected to improve across the islands through September after near-record dryness in April through June.

This Drought Early Warning Update is issued in partnership between the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The purpose of the update is to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the U.S. Caribbean based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought updates as conditions evolve.

Key Points

The drought began in the U.S. Caribbean in April, and it peaked in late June/early July. As of July 21, both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have areas of severe drought, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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While near-normal rainfall has been observed over the past few weeks across the local area, rainfall deficits continue to be observed across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Agricultural businesses are still struggling to provide appropriate feed and water to their livestock and crops, particularly across the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Looking Ahead: Conditions are starting to improve, with additional rain likely coming to PR and USVI later in the week due to current tropical activity and the potential of a tropical cyclone. For weather and storm information specific to an area, please monitor products issued by the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the National Hurricane Center.

There are enhanced chances to observe near to above-normal rainfall during July, August and September across the northeast Caribbean; therefore, drought improvement is expected to continue in the fall.

Current Conditions – Drought Designation

After a wet January to March, conditions across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands turned markedly dry in early April and continued through the end of June. Severe (D2) drought conditions have been in place since June 9 for parts of the south coast of Puerto Rico and the USVI. Continued dryness in June for both Puerto Rico and the USVI only exacerbated the short but significant drought, with St. Croix and St. John reaching extreme (D3) drought conditions in mid-June.

Rainfall Deficits

The 90-day rainfall deficits across the U.S. Virgin Islands range between three inches on St. Thomas to five inches on St. Croix.

Outlooks and Impacts 

Based on the three-month extended forecast by the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF), there are enhanced chances to observe near to above-normal rainfall during July, August and September across the northeast Caribbean. The CariCOF extended forecast also indicates above-average mean temperatures, although it is due mainly to above-normal daily minimum temperatures, as the increase in cloudiness and shower activity may actually cause the daily maximum temperatures to be near or below normal.

U.S. Virgin Islands 

Vegetation shows signs of distress due to lack of water.

Ponds used by farmers are drying up.

Water cisterns in households are drying up, leading to more water purchases by residents who depend on harvested water.

Hills turned brown all over St. Thomas under drought conditions in April 2019. (sap photo)
Hills turned brown all over St. Thomas under drought conditions in April 2019 (sap file photo)

Agricultural businesses are still struggling to provide appropriate feed and water to their livestock and crops, farmers are losing crops and buying more food for their livestock.

St. Thomas impacts: Bordeaux farmers reported that the drought was severe in April, May and June with soil cracks in the ground and ponds at their lowest level in May. Water delivery is unavailable through the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, which impacted farmers in that area and reduced the production of specialty crops.

St. John impacts: While farmers on St. John reported drought conditions, most have conservation tools in place. A few farmers in Coral Bay reported that while the drought was severe, they had access to an aquifer and strategic well systems, so conservation measures were used to continue specialty crop production.

St. Croix impacts: According to the V.I. Department of Agriculture, more than 1,399,133 gallons of water have been provided to farmers on the islands. This figure represents the usage of 406,143 gallons in April with more than 602,990 gallons in May – the highest amount in the three-month period – and 390,000 gallons in June. Also, cattle farmers and UVI AES cattle farm researchers reported that the drought has impacted the nutrition of livestock, as well as breeding and fertility.

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