Thursday, April 19, 2018

National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Climate for August 2017: Drought intensifies over Montana; Oklahoma and south Texas see improvements

Access the latest monthly drought outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The two maps above are from the High Plains Regional Climate Center.
Find these and other products related to the U.S. Drought Monitor on the USDM website.

By Curtis Riganti and Brian Fuchs, NDMC Climatologists


During August, both drought improvement and degradation occurred over parts of the northern and central Plains, and drought improvement occurred in Oklahoma and south Texas, leaving only a small area of moderate drought remaining in south Texas. Drought continued to intensify and spread over much of Montana and parts of the Idaho Panhandle. At the end of August, moderate drought coverage in the continental United States had increased from 11.77 to 11.82 percent, and severe drought coverage had increased from 5.23 to 5.74 percent. Extreme drought coverage increased from 2.60 to 2.65 percent, and exceptional drought coverage increased from 0.76 to 1.21 percent.  August started with just over 21 million people being affected by drought and ended with about 17.6 million being impacted by drought.  Last year at this time, approximately 91.5 million people were being affected by drought as much of southern California was still under the grip of a multiyear drought.

Drought Outlook

In September, drought is forecasted to persist in most areas in which it has already developed. In the northern Plains and northern Rockies, drought persistence is likely. The northwest Minnesota drought is forecasted to expand into North Dakota, and the northern Rockies drought likely will expand into much of Washington and Oregon. The smaller drought areas in southern California and southwest Arizona, central Utah, southwest Nebraska, southwest Texas, Iowa, Illinois, and the St. Louis metropolitan area are forecasted to persist during September. The ongoing drought in central Kansas is forecasted to persist and slightly expand into far southeastern Nebraska. Drought removal is forecasted to occur in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and in coastal Maine.


While a ridge of high pressure persisted in the West, leading to above-normal temperatures, pleasant conditions for August developed in the central United States as upper level troughs of low pressure allowed for below-normal temperatures to infiltrate the region. The western continental United States was generally 2-6 degrees above normal, while the central United States was 2-6 degrees cooler than normal and the eastern United States near normal.


The landfall and subsequent stalling of Hurricane Harvey near Corpus Christi, Texas, in the last week of August was easily the most significant precipitation event of the month. Heavy and persistent rainfall associated with Harvey caused historic flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, with isolated event rainfall amounts exceeding 50 inches. Because of Harvey, areas from southwest Louisiana to the Texas Hill Country back to the Gulf Coast ended August with 8-20+ inches above normal rainfall. Precipitation in Montana was below normal, particularly in the High Plains. While large amounts of rain are uncommon in August in the West, most of the intermountain West and Pacific Northwest observed below-normal precipitation of under a half inch of rain. Rainfall was within 4 inches of normal in most of the eastern United States, with the exception of the southwest Florida Gulf Coast, where rainfall was 4-12 inches above normal. Other pockets recording precipitation amounts greater than 4 inches above normal were also found in several regions of the central and northern Plains, most notably northeast Texas, the west Texas Panhandle, and southwest Minnesota.


Regional Overviews


Precipitation in August in the Northeast was variable. The Delmarva Peninsula and southeast Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, areas west of the Hudson River Valley, and Nantucket all experienced above-normal rainfall. Meanwhile, most of southern New England, northeast and southwest Maine, and western Pennsylvania recorded below-normal rainfall, with other areas closer to normal. The wettest areas were in the Delmarva Peninsula and southeast Pennsylvania, which received over 3 inches above normal rainfall. Most of the dry areas were within 3 inches of normal, with the exception of eastern Massachusetts (not including Nantucket, which was wetter than normal). Most of the Northeast was near or cooler than normal for August. The coolest regions were central Pennsylvania and southeast New York, which had temperatures between 2 and 5 degrees cooler than normal. During August, moderate drought developed over most of coastal Maine, with northeastern coastal Maine persisting in moderate drought. No other drought developed in the Northeast. Moderate drought coverage increased from 1.57 percent to 4.61 percent during August.


Most areas of the Southeast were within 4 inches of normal rainfall. Exceptions were from Tampa to Naples, Florida, where rain was 4-16 inches above normal, and east central Georgia, where precipitation was 4-8 inches below normal. While within 4 inches of normal, upstate South Carolina was below 50 percent of their normal rainfall. The northwestern halves of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina were mostly below normal, with a few areas of northwest Alabama, southwest Georgia, and north central North Carolina being 2-4 degrees cooler than normal. South central Virginia, most of coastal Georgia, southeast South Carolina, east central North Carolina, and much of the Florida Peninsula were above normal, with isolated spots being 2-3 degrees warmer than normal. No changes in drought occurred during August, with no drought being present at the end of the month.

Movers & Shakers for August 2017

Percent area August 1, 2017

Percent area August 29, 2017 Status Percentage point change
Biggest increases in drought
Hawaii 11.64 15.27 Severe 3.63
Idaho 1.14 17.28 Moderate 16.14
Illinois 1.18 6.26 Moderate 5.08
Kansas 4.83 19.90 Moderate 15.07
Maine 9.82 28.88 Moderate 19.06
Montana 53.39 90.20 Moderate 36.81
37.76 66.01 Severe 28.25
25.06 39.42 Extreme 14.36
11.87 24.55 Exceptional 12.68
Biggest improvements in drought
Alaska 6.67 0 Moderate 6.67
Hawaii 69.01 63.54 Moderate 5.47
Iowa 36.19 27.62 Moderate 8.57
Nebraska 41.90 12.46 Moderate 29.44
6.44 0 Severe 6.44
North Dakota 81.74 65.84 Moderate 15.90
62.45 51.33 Severe 11.12
44.09 22.08 Extreme 22.01
7.62 0.39 Exceptional 7.23
Oklahoma 18.51 0 Moderate 18.51
3.65 0 Severe 3.65
South Dakota 82.45 68.85 Moderate 13.60
53.17 42.60 Severe 10.57
13.15 6.27 Extreme 6.88
Texas 9.90 0.87 Moderate 9.03


The primary weather story for August in the South was the landfall and stalling out of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas. The hurricane produced much above normal rainfall in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, as well as historic flooding in parts of this region, including the Houston metropolitan area. Rainfall from Corpus Christi through parts of coastal Louisiana exceeded 8 inches above normal, with a large swath from south of Houston to near Beaumont, Texas, seeing 20 or more inches above normal rainfall for August. A few locations exceeded 50 inches of rain during tropical cyclone Harvey. The areas with at least 4 inches above normal rain extended inland to the Hill Country and coastal plain eastward from near Shreveport to New Orleans. Portions of east central New Mexico into the Texas Panhandle, as well as northeast Texas, observed rainfall 4-12 inches above normal in August. The I-40 corridor in Oklahoma received over 4 inches above normal rainfall, and patches of 4-8 inches above normal extended into the southwest half of Arkansas. A few areas of southwest Mississippi recorded 4-8 inches above normal rainfall, as well as a small area of northeast Mississippi. Temperatures were cooler than normal to the north of a line from Lubbock to Dallas to Nashville. The coolest temperatures, between 4 and 6 degrees cooler, occurred in the northwest half of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and northern Arkansas, which saw a small area fall between 6 and 8 degrees below normal. Farther south, temperatures were mostly within 2 degrees of normal. A few spots experienced temperatures 2-4 degrees warmer than normal, including areas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, northern Louisiana, and southwest Texas. Drought removal occurred from central Oklahoma into the Texas Panhandle and northwest Texas, and in central and south central Texas. At the end of August, the percent area of moderate drought in the South decreased from 7.46 to 0.44 percent (with remaining moderate drought located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Del Rio, Texas, areas), while the severe drought area that had covered 0.46 percent at the beginning of August was removed.


During August, precipitation from the northeast half of Missouri to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan was generally below normal, with the driest areas in eastern Iowa, southwest Wisconsin, northern Illinois, central and southern Indiana, and northeast Ohio, which were 2-4 inches below normal rainfall for the month. West central, central, and northeast Minnesota, west central Iowa, west central and southwest Missouri, and south central Kentucky had rainfall in excess of 4 inches above normal. Much of the Midwest observed below-normal temperatures, with most areas outside of the northeast half of Ohio and eastern Michigan falling at least 2 degrees below normal. Much of Missouri was 4-6 degrees cooler than normal, with a few patches of 6-8 degrees below normal occurring in west central Missouri. Other patches of temperatures 4-6 degrees below normal were common in Iowa, northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, southern Illinois, and northern Kentucky. Drought improvement and removal occurred in far northwest Iowa, while drought degradation or persistence occurred in south central Iowa, east central Missouri, central Illinois, and northwest Minnesota. At the end of August, moderate to extreme drought covered central and south central Iowa, while areas of moderate drought covered northwest Minnesota, east central Missouri and the St. Louis metropolitan area, and central Illinois. Moderate drought coverage dipped slightly (from 7.82 to 7.43 percent), severe drought coverage slightly increased (from 0.80 to 1.08 percent), and extreme drought was introduced in a small part of southern Iowa, resulting in extreme drought coverage of 0.26 percent of the Midwest.

High Plains

Precipitation in the High Plains during August was generally within 2 inches of normal in Wyoming and Colorado, while central and northeast Nebraska, central and south central South Dakota, and southeast Kansas had localized rainfall that exceeded 4 inches above normal. Isolated areas had 6 or more inches above normal precipitation in central and northeast Nebraska and in southeast Kansas. A few areas in central and northeast Kansas observed rainfall of 2-4 inches below normal. Most of the High Plains region experienced cooler than normal temperatures during August, with the exceptions of northwest Colorado and southwest Wyoming. Temperatures were 4-6 degrees below normal across the eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, southwest North Dakota, southeast Colorado, far southwest Kansas, and east central Wyoming. A few isolated spots in south central Kansas, east central Wyoming, and central South Dakota had temperatures between 6 and 8 degrees cooler than normal. Drought improvement and removal occurred in north central Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, southeast North Dakota, and southeast Wyoming. Drought improvement occurred in central North Dakota and northeast Wyoming. Development of moderate drought occurred in central Kansas, while drought degradation also occurred in west central South Dakota. At the end of August, moderate drought covered central Kansas and a small portion of northeast Kansas and extreme southeast Nebraska, a small area of southwest Nebraska, the southern Nebraska Panhandle, north central Nebraska, northeast Wyoming, far northeast North Dakota, and most of the western two-thirds of the Dakotas. Severe drought covered much of central and northwest South Dakota, and much of the western half of North Dakota. Extreme drought was found in west central South Dakota and southwest and northwest North Dakota, and a small area of exceptional drought was found in far northwest North Dakota. Moderate drought coverage declined from 31.93 to 25.09 percent, and severe drought coverage declined from 17.93 to 13.64 percent. Extreme drought coverage declined from 8.11 to 4.01 percent, and exceptional drought coverage dropped from 1.06 to 0.05 percent.


Much of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana had below 1 inch of rain, which was 0-3 inches below normal for August. East central New Mexico received 3-12 inches above normal rainfall. A general east-to-west average temperature gradient occurred in the West during August, with California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho being mostly warmer than normal. The warmest areas, with temperatures as much as 6-10 degrees warmer than normal, were found in central and north central California, northwest and east central Oregon, and south central and southwest Washington. Meanwhile, the Montana high plains had temperatures 2-6 degrees below normal in many areas, with 2-6 degree cool anomalies also being found in north central and northeast New Mexico. Utah and Arizona were mostly within 2 degrees of normal, with a few spots in central Utah and north central, central, and southwest Arizona being 2-4 degrees warmer than normal. Drought degradation or persistence was found across the entirety of Montana, while degradation to moderate drought occurred in parts of the Idaho Panhandle. Drought improvement occurred in far southeast California, while moderate drought persisted in much of coastal southern California. At the end of August, exceptional drought continued in northeast Montana, while extreme drought surrounded the exceptional drought in eastern Montana. Severe drought surrounded the extreme drought in eastern and central Montana and was also introduced in northwest Montana. Moderate drought also persisted in southeast California and southwest Arizona, as well as parts of central and northeast Utah. Moderate drought coverage increased from 9.67 to 15.27 percent, while severe drought coverage increased from 4.94 to 8.27 percent. Extreme drought coverage increased from 3.11 to 4.89 percent, and exceptional drought coverage increased from 1.47 to 3.04 percent.


August 2017 impact summary: Drought eases slightly in Dakotas, but crops and livestock still affected

The two charts above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.

By Denise Gutzmer, NDMC Drought Impact Specialist

August was an arid month for the Northwest, and particularly Montana, where drought intensified significantly, but conditions eased in other parts of the country.  The Dakotas saw some rainfall and easing of drought in August, after enduring months of drought, prompting farmers to wean calves and harvest crops early.  Hot, dry weather in Texas led to numerous burn bans and some water restrictions, but Hurricane Harvey submerged parts of southeast Texas, eradicating any drought in the area, apart from extreme southern and southwestern Texas. 

South Dakota by far had the most impacts for August as individuals submitted their drought observations, accounting for at least 46 of the 54 impacts for the state.  North Dakota followed with 36 impacts and Montana with 33. 

Wheat harvest expected to be down in Dakotas

In South Dakota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expected the total wheat harvest to be halved by drought for a harvest of 54.7 million bushels, the least produced since 2002, also a drought year.  The winter wheat crop was projected to be down 61 percent, compared to the previous year, at 24.7 million bushels, while the spring wheat crop was expected to be down 36 percent to 30.1 million bushels. 

North Dakota’s crops were faring similarly, with spring wheat forecasted to be down 31 percent (compared to 2016) to 186 million bushels.  Durum production was expected to drop 56 percent to nearly 26 million bushels, and winter wheat production was projected to be down 74 percent to 1.5 million bushels.  Other forecasted crop shortfalls were for barley, down 44 percent; oats, down 37 percent; alfalfa hay, down 21 percent; and corn, down 19 percent. 

SD farmers to take in smallest wheat harvest since 2002, also a drought year, by Stephen Lee, Capital Journal (Pierre, South Dakota), Aug. 10, 2017

Report shows South Dakota crops feeling effects of drought, Associated Press,, Aug. 10, 2017

Report shows North Dakota crops feeling effects of drought, Associated Press,, Aug. 10, 2017

South Dakota producers comment on drought impacts

Numerous South Dakotans visited the Drought Impact Reporter website to post their observations and concerns during the past month.  Below are excerpts from some of the 55 reports submitted by individuals in South Dakota. 

No spring alfalfa crop, so no-tilled in cane and hay millet; we were optimistic, but by August 16th it still hadn't sprouted, so we sold our cows rather than buy expensive hay. (Mellette County, South Dakota, on August 24, 2017)

We received adequate moisture in April but since then it has been extremely dry. We cut 14 acres of river bottom hay and baled up 4 bales on it, approximately 280 lbs. of hay per acre (normal yield is approximately 1.25 ton per acre).  Needless to say we didn't cut any more hay. (Butte County, South Dakota, on August 26, 2017)

After the dry summer of 2016 and only 3 inches of rain since April our pastureland is very poor and no hay for the 2nd year in a row. We will be forced to sell livestock for the first time since the ranch was started in 1908! (Harding County, South Dakota, on August 13, 2017)

Our hay crop averages between 1200 - 1500 big round bales; this year it was 55. Had very little carryover hay as last year was also dry, but not this dry. We are buying hay 350 miles from home due to large area that is dry. We have only had a little over three inches of rain since mid April. (Meade County, South Dakota, on August 12, 2017)

North Dakota governor seeking presidential disaster declaration

Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota requested a presidential disaster declaration, noting that his state is “the epicenter of drought for the nation.”  The declaration would also make a way for direct federal disaster payments to farmers who may not have much of a crop to harvest or feed for their hungry cattle. 

North Dakota Governor Asks for New Federal Help Amid Drought, by Blake Nicholson, Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 8, 2017

Hay lottery offers hope for northern Plains ranchers

Poor crop growth in the northern Plains meant that hay and forage for livestock was in short supply, leaving ranchers looking around anxiously for hay to purchase.  Responding to the need, North Dakota's Agriculture Department, North Dakota State University, and Ag Community Relief, based in Michigan, were working together to get hay to North Dakota ranchers via a lottery system.  Ranchers in South Dakota and Montana were later invited to participate in the lottery.  The first hay drawing took place in early September. 

While some livestock producers were fortunate enough to win hay in the hay lottery, many producers were trying to decide whether to sell some of their herd or purchase hay at exorbitant prices for the winter.  To take some of the sting out of the cost of hauling hay, the North Dakota Emergency Commission set up a $1.5 million fund for a hay transportation program for livestock producers that will be administered by the state Department of Agriculture. Under the program, eligible producers could be reimbursed for a portion of hay transportation costs.

Project to Dole Out Donated Hay to Drought-Stricken Ranchers, Associated Press, U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 1, 2017

Drought hay donation lottery program now offered in 3 states, by Associated Press, Billings Gazette (Montana), Aug. 8, 2017

ND Emergency Commission approves $1.5 million for hay transportation program amid drought, by John Hageman, The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press, Aug. 22, 2017

Montana wildfire activity continues

Montana faced many wildfires during the summer, which quickly burned through the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s $63 million firefighting fund at a rate of $1.5 million per day as the state’s worst fire season in years wore on.  Just $12 million was left in the fund during the first days of August.  Unfortunately, the National Interagency Fire Center predicted the major wildfire threat would continue into October or November.  From the start of the year through the end of August, more than 1,500 fires burned 937 square miles in Montana. 

Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order on September 1, declaring a state of disaster in Montana because of the multitude of wildfires. The order allows the governor to utilize more state resources and permits the Montana National Guard to fight fires. The governor also issued a directive to the Montana Department of Transportation, temporarily suspending certain regulatory requirements to assist with the transport of heavy firefighting equipment.

Highlighting the unusual fire danger in the state, a unique fire start occurred in Dawson County where a shod horse’s horseshoe struck a rock, sparking a fire that consumed 240 acres. The fire burned through exceedingly dry prairie grass toward two homes, but the structures were spared. 

Fires are torching Montana, and the money is running out, by Matt Volz, Associated Press, The Seattle Times, Aug. 2, 2017

Montana Wildfire Roundup For August 31, 2017, Montana Public Radio News (Missoula), Aug. 31, 2017

Governor declares disaster exists in Montana, by Phil Drake, Great Falls (Montana) Tribune, Sept. 1, 2017

Shod horse starts one of two weekend fires, by Jason Stuart, Glendive (Montana) Ranger Review, Aug. 27, 2017


For more drought information, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.



The National Drought Mitigation Center | University of Nebraska-Lincoln
3310 Holdrege Street | P.O. Box 830988 | Lincoln, NE 68583–0988
phone: (402) 472–6707 | fax: (402) 472–2946 | Contact Us | Web Policy

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Copyright 2018 National Drought Mitigation Center