Drought and Climate for July 2018: Dryness continues in south central U.S.

by Claire Schirle


In July, national coverage of moderate drought increased by 5.34 percent, from 28.79 percent to 34.13 percent, while coverage of severe drought increased by 3.48 percent (to 19.41 percent).  The area in extreme drought increased slightly, from 8.28 percent to 8.51 percent, and the area of exceptional drought decreased slightly, from 1.84 percent to 1.61 percent.  The population in drought areas increased substantially, from 62.3 million to 74.5 million.

Drought Outlook

Drought improvement is forecast throughout the majority of Arizona, western New Mexico, southeast Utah and southwest Colorado because of the expectation that monsoon moisture will prevail through August.  Throughout the remainder of the West, drought is expected to persist, except in the Olympic Peninsula, where drought removal is likely.  Drought is expected to persist and spread to the remaining drought-free portions of Texas, aside from areas along the Gulf Coast.  Drought improvement and removal is forecast for the current areas of drought in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, northeast Michigan and New York while drought is likely to persist in northern Missouri, northeast Kansas, southern Michigan and Maine.


The West, the Northeast, and Texas saw the warmest temperatures during the month of July, with temperatures primarily 2 to 8 degrees above normal.  The remainder of the United States saw temperatures generally within 2 degrees of normal.


California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho were the driest areas during July.  Precipitation in large portions of these states was only 2 to 5 percent of normal.  The wettest conditions occurred in western Arizona, western Nevada, southeast Utah, and small pockets throughout the Great Plains and Mid-Atlantic, where precipitation totals were as much as 400 to 800 percent of normal.  The rest of the country saw precipitation amounts closer to normal, but somewhat low, typically between 50 and 100 percent of normal.

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.

Regional Overviews


Precipitation varied greatly throughout the Northeast during July.  Precipitation was a mere 25 to 70 percent of normal for western Pennsylvania and Virginia, northern New York, southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and parts of Maine.  However, precipitation was 150 to 300 percent above normal in Maryland, eastern Virginia, central and eastern Pennsylvania, and southern New York where an atmospheric river brought days of rain during the second half of the month. Temperatures were within a degree or two of normal in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and were 2 to 6 degrees above normal in the northern states of the region.  Regional moderate drought coverage increased from 5.88 percent to 9.33 percent.


Precipitation was hit or miss in the Southeast during July.  Precipitation deficits were common in much of Alabama, northern Georgia, southern Florida, central South Carolina, and western North Carolina, where precipitation was 25 to 90 percent of normal.  Meanwhile, precipitation surpluses occurred in small pockets of western and southern Alabama, southern Georgia, central Florida, and the eastern portion of the Carolinas (between 110 and 200 percent of normal).  Temperatures were 1 to 3 degrees above normal in southern Alabama, southern Florida, and western North Carolina, while temperatures throughout the rest of the region were within a degree of normal or 2-3 degrees below normal.  The region started and closed out the month without any drought coverage.


The majority of the region was drier than normal during July. Large portions of Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee, as well as northern Louisiana, saw precipitation only 5 to 70 percent of normal.  In contrast, small pockets of Texas, the majority of Oklahoma, southwestern Louisiana and a good portion of Mississippi saw precipitation surpluses between 110 and 300 percent of normal.  Central Texas saw the largest temperature departure from normal, with temperatures 3 to 5 degrees above normal.  The rest of the region was also generally warm, but with temperatures primarily only 1 to 3 degrees above normal.  Small pockets in the Oklahoma panhandle, southern Texas, western Mississippi and south-central Tennessee saw temperatures 1 to 2 degrees below normal.  Moderate and severe drought coverage in the region both increased by about 10 percent—from 36.32 percent to 46.11 percent and 13.14 percent to 23.79 percent, respectively.  Extreme drought coverage increased slightly, from 4.13 percent to 5.58 percent, and the only area of exceptional drought in the Oklahoma panhandle was removed.


The Midwest was generally drier than normal with precipitation 5 to 90 percent of normal for much of the region.  Exceptions to the dryness occurred in central Minnesota and Illinois, far southwestern Wisconsin, eastern Kentucky, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and a small section of Michigan near Saginaw Bay where precipitation ranged from 110 to 200 percent of normal.  A swath of cooler than normal temperatures occurred from southern Minnesota into Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky (1 to 3 degrees below normal) while temperatures were 1 to 4 degrees above normal in the rest of the region.  Moderate drought coverage in the region more than doubled, increasing from 6.34 percent 14.05 percent.  Severe drought coverage also doubled, changing from 2.47 percent to 4.87 percent coverage.  Extreme drought coverage increased from 0 percent to 2.53 percent.

High Plains

Precipitation surpluses of 150 to 200 percent of normal were relatively common throughout the region for the month of July, particularly in western Wyoming, Nebraska and southern Kansas.  However, precipitation of only 2 to 50 percent of normal was found in western Colorado and Wyoming, central South Dakota, northern North Dakota and eastern Kansas.  The majority of the region was within two degrees of normal, with the exception of western Colorado and Wyoming where temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees above normal.  Moderate drought coverage within the region decreased slightly, from 26.46 percent to 25.99 percent.  Meanwhile, severe drought coverage increased from 15.61 percent to 18.57 percent.  Extreme and exceptional drought coverage both increased slightly—from 8.54 percent to 10.24 percent and 1.80 percent to 2.23 percent, respectively. 


Nearly the entire states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as western Montana and large portions of California, saw precipitation amounts of only 0 to 25 percent of normal.  In contrast, thanks to monsoonal moisture, most of Arizona, southern Nevada and Utah, and pockets of New Mexico saw precipitation between 150 and 400 percent of normal.  Additionally, a region to the east of the Sierra Nevada in far eastern California and into central Nevada saw precipitation surpluses as large as 800 percent of normal. Temperatures throughout the West were 2 to 8 degrees above average, with the exception of Montana, where temperatures were between 2 degrees above normal and 4 degrees below normal.  In the West, moderate drought coverage increased from 47.99 percent to 54.85 percent and severe drought coverage increased from 31.42 percent to 34.72 percent.  Extreme drought decreased slightly, from 18.70 to 17.47 percent.  Exceptional drought also decreased slightly, from 4.65 percent to 4.02 percent. 

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Abnormally dry conditions in Hawaii present at the end of June degraded to moderate drought by the end of July.  Drought is forecast to persist in Hawaii and develop in southern Puerto Rico.  Alaska is expected to remain drought-free.

Movers and Shakers for July 2018
StatePercent Area
Jun. 26, 2018
Percent Area
Jul. 31, 2018
Biggest increase in drought
New Mexico95.8096.91Moderate1.11
New York0.0720.08Moderate20.01
Biggest decrease in drought
New Hampshire44.9818.66Moderate26.32
New Mexico86.5570.47Severe16.08
New Mexico57.7346.04Extreme11.69
New Mexico18.0215.54Exceptional2.48
North Dakota9.061.52Moderate7.54
South Dakota12.964.92Moderate8.04

July 2018 impact summary: Record-high temperatures intensify drought conditions in parts of southern United States

by Denise Gutzmer

Drought intensified in parts of the United States, such as the Northwest and Michigan, during July, while monsoon rains brought some relief to parched parts of the Southwest.  And July was a sizzler, with 1,542 new daily high temperature records, 85 new monthly heat records and 23 all-time highs from late June through July 25, with many of those records set in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The extreme heat, added to drought conditions, intensified the dry conditions in much of the country. 

The NDMC added 427 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in July, with most of those reflecting changes to vegetation, agriculture and water supplies amid the summer heat.  Texas accrued 68 impacts as the drought and heat was felt in the ag sector, and Missouri and Colorado followed with 54 and 42 impacts, respectively, with impacts seen in agriculture and across the landscape. 

It's hot! Record July temperatures heating up world, by Marina Pitofsky, USA Today, July 26, 2018

Texas crops, hay hampered by drought

The heat and drought combined to cause considerable stress and damage to crops and pastures in parts of the state in July.  In drought-affected areas, pasture and hay struggled and dried up, while cotton fared little better, in some cases requiring replanting with other crops.  In the Texoma region around Lake Texoma, not enough moisture fell to make a decent cotton crop, leaving cotton farmers looking at potentially huge losses.  Ten to 20 percent of fields may be worth harvesting, while 80 to 90 percent may not.  Insurance agents were assessing fields in the latter part of the month.

Given the poor pasture and hay growth, many producers were looking to buy hay, except that it was scarce and expensive, due to the widespread need for feeding livestock.  So farmers in drought areas were abandoning their grain and other crops and were baling them for cattle feed.  An extension forage specialist with the University of Missouri suggested that even weeds, such as crabgrass, foxtail, barnyard grass and goose grass, might be valuable forage for baling, if there was nothing else.  The situation was similar in Missouri, where pastures were not growing, forcing producers to find an alternative or sell livestock.  Cattle sales were much higher than normal in parts of Texas and Missouri where feed and water were in short supply.

Drought was also noticeable in north Texas where home foundations were cracking, with repair companies reporting twice the usual service calls.  In east Texas, tree leaves were falling early, an occurrence that Texas AgriLife Extension agents blamed on drought. 

Texas Crop and Weather Report – July 10, 2018, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), July 10, 2018

Texas Crop and Weather Report – July 31, 2018, by Adam Russell, The Bryan-College Station Eagle (Texas), July 10, 2018

Drought affecting cotton harvest, by Jesse Canales, KAUZ-TV CBS 6 Wichita Falls (Texas), July 24, 2018

Texas Farmers Baling Grain Crops For Cattle Feed In Drought, by Sonja Begemann, Drovers (Lenexa, Kansas), July 24, 2018

Drought Takes Toll on Home Foundations, by Scott Gordon, KXAS-TV NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth (Texas), Aug. 2, 2018

East Texas agriculture experts warn of 'false fall', by Haley Squiers, KTRE-TV ABC 9 (Pollok, Texas), Aug. 1, 2018

Missouri agriculture, livestock producers struggling amid drought

Similar to Texas, Missouri crops and pastures were suffering, leaving cattle producers to scrounge for hay or other feed and sell cattle.  Farmers who responded to a Missouri Farm Bureau survey reported that the drought was severely hurting hay production and would likely force many producers to sell livestock. Most (98 percent) respondents reported that their first cutting of hay was of poorer quality or quantity than usual, averaging 43 percent below normal production. In northwest Missouri, more than 86 percent anticipated needing to purchase hay to get them through until spring, but just 13 percent said hay was available for purchase in their area. Producers expected to travel at least 110 miles to find suitable hay. In addition, hay prices have risen 106 percent, reaching as high as 130 percent in northwest Missouri.

Seventy-two percent of respondents expect to have to sell some of their herds because of drought. Of that 72 percent, more than 60 percent felt they would have to sell at least 20 percent of their herd.

Numerous livestock producers opted to sell cattle for lack of feed and water in the St. Joseph area.  More cattle than usual went through stockyards, indicating harsh drought conditions drying up pastures and depleting water supplies. Many producers were culling herds and culling more deeply than they normally would.

Drought making hay prices skyrocket across Missouri, by Eric Bohl, Daily Journal (Park Hills, Missouri), July 18, 2018

In Missouri, ranchers are praying for rain, by Amy Bickel, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal (Dodge City, Kansas), July 23, 2018

Water supplies, recreation affected in Colorado

Poor snowfall and low runoff affected water supplies and recreational opportunities in Colorado, where streamflows were less than half of average across nearly the entire state.  With water levels so low, what water remained was too warm for fish.  The lack of water was also hard on livestock producers, forcing them to sell cattle.  A livestock auction held in La Junta moved 3,000 head at a time of year when they do not even typically have auctions.  Crops, particularly in the southwest, were completely devastated by drought. 

Drought and low flows on Colorado’s rivers and streams were bringing an early end to the rafting season unless monsoon rains really delivered.  Outfitters in Summit County were idle, as warm temperatures meant that fishing trips were not possible.  Meanwhile, to protect the fish, Colorado Parks and Wildlife closed sections of the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County as low flows and high temperatures threatened the survival of trout. 

Colorado’s water managers decry lack of water, surplus of fire, by Brent Gardner-Smith, Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Colorado), July 22, 2018

Rafting outfitters feeling effects of drought, low water levels in Colorado, by Lance Hernandez, KMGH-TV ABC 7 Denver, July 20, 2018

High stream temps prompt closures of Fraser, Colorado Rivers for first time in two decades, by Lance Maggart, Sky-Hi News (Granby, Colorado), July 31, 2018

Wildfires continue in California and the West

The 2018 wildfire season was burning vigorously in the West where years of drought dried fuels and primed the landscape for massive blazes.  Experts say extreme heat, climate change, drought and other factors were the reasons for the explosive fire season.  In California alone, dozens of people have died since October and more than 10,000 structures have burned from San Diego to Redding as the California wildfire season got off to its worst start in a decade.  One of the reasons for the intense start was the recent 5-year stretch of drought that killed millions of trees, shrubs and bushes that remained standing and ready to burn.  In addition, the dry winter of 2017-18 left vegetation exceedingly dry.  Then late rains in May allowed grasses to flourish, increasing the amount of grass in many areas by 50 percent, creating more fuel to burn once the grass dried. 

At the end of July, the Carr fire west of Redding consumed more than 110,000 acres and at least 818 homes as firefighters continued to battle the flames. The blaze was the largest and most destructive of 17 fires burning in the state as the fire season looked to be one of the earliest and worst fire seasons for the Golden State.  The Carr fire was to soon be outdone by the Mendocino Complex fire, which ballooned to more than 300,000 acres on August 8.  

One-fourth of California’s annual fire budget—at least $130 million—was spent in the first month of the budget year starting July 1 as numerous blazes burned and showed no sign of slowing down. 

Explainer: Drought creates a perfect storm for wildfires in U.S. West, by Andrew Hay, Reuters, July 12, 2018

Why California’s fire season is off to the worst start in 10 years, by Paul Rogers, The San Jose Mercury News (California), July 10, 2018

The common thread in California's wildfires: heat like the state has never seen, by Rong-Gong Lin II and Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2018

Carr fire stats

Mendocino Complex fire at InciWeb

California governor pledges any resources needed for fires, by Janie Har and Brian Skoloff, The Orange County Register (Anaheim, California), Aug. 1, 2018

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.