Drought and Climate for May 2020: Drought intensified in the West, eased in southern U.S.

by Denise Gutzmer


During May, drought coverage and severity increased in parts of the western U.S., parts of the northern and southern Great Plains and northern Florida.  Areas of extreme drought developed in northern Oregon and southern and eastern Colorado, spilling over into northern New Mexico and western Kansas. 

Ample rain fell in southern Texas and Louisiana, peninsular Florida and northeast Colorado, easing dry conditions. 

In the U.S. and Puerto Rico, moderate drought increased from 12.33% to 15.49%.  Severe drought expanded slightly from 4.72% to 6.00%, while extreme drought grew from 0.39% to 1.03%.  No exceptional drought existed in the country.

Drought Outlook

For June, the National Weather Service Prediction Center is forecasting drought to persist in parts of the West into the southern Great Plains, as well as in southwestern North Dakota.  Drought is forecast to remain but improve in coastal Mississippi to western Florida, as well as in spots in south Texas.  Drought removal is likely in parts of Florida, southern Alabama and areas of south Texas.  Drought is likely to develop in parts of the central and southern Great Plains, southern Montana, northern Wyoming and the Northeast. 


In May, temperatures were below normal east of the Rocky Mountains, ranging from 0 to 4 degrees cooler than normal for the most part.  The Northeast and Florida experienced temperatures from normal to 2 degrees above normal.  In the Southwest, temperatures varied from normal to 6 degrees warmer than average, while in the Pacific Northwest, temperatures were normal to 2 degrees warmer than average.


Precipitation in May ranged from normal to 3 inches below normal in the West, apart from the Pacific Northwest, where rainfall was up to 3 inches above normal.  From Texas and Louisiana north to the Great Lakes and southeast to the Carolinas, precipitation was largely normal to 6 inches above normal, with significantly higher amounts in the Carolinas.  Parts of South Florida received up to 12 inches above average precipitation.  In the Lower Mississippi Valley, a dry area existed where rainfall was 3 to 6 inches below 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


Much of the Northeast was on the dry side through May, with precipitation varying from normal to 3 inches below normal in the east.  Areas of rainfall up to 1.5 inches above normal occurred in western New York and north central Pennsylvania, with locally higher amounts.  Western West Virginia received up to 4.5 inches above normal rainfall. 

Temperatures trended below normal across much of the region, particularly in West Virginia and Pennsylvania where temperatures were up to 4 degrees below normal.  From Vermont to Maine, some pockets experienced temperatures up to 2 degrees above normal.

At the end of May, areas of abnormal dryness existed in New York, New Hampshire and Maine.



Precipitation in much of the Southeast ranged from 3 inches below normal to normal, apart from the Carolinas, western Virginia and southern Florida, where rainfall was 3 to 6 inches above normal, with localized areas of 9 or more inches above normal.  Temperatures ranged from normal to 4 degrees below normal across the region for the most part, with the exception of Florida where temperatures were normal to 2 degrees above normal.   

Drought conditions eased slightly in May, intensifying in coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, while lessening in peninsular Florida.  Areas of severe drought decreased from 1.51% to 0.86%.  Moderate drought lessened from 9.12% to 6.86%.  The spatial extent of abnormal dryness decreased incrementally from 18.15% to 17.96%.


Parts of the South were exceedingly wet in May, while other areas were much drier than normal.  Eastern Oklahoma, much of Arkansas, eastern Texas, and parts of Louisiana received abundant rainfall, with localized areas receiving 4.5 to 7 inches more than normal.  The driest area in the South was along the Mississippi River between Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where rainfall was 1.5 to 6 inches below normal.  Other dry areas included the Texas panhandle, northwestern Oklahoma and parts of Tennessee.

Across the South, temperatures were warmest in western Texas, ranging from 2 to 4 degrees above normal, and trending cooler to the east.  In much of Oklahoma and eastern Texas and eastward, temperatures were roughly normal to 4 degrees below normal.  

In the South, drought existed in southern Texas and along the Gulf Coast, with a small area of drought in the western Oklahoma Panhandle.  By the end of May, drought improved along the Gulf Coast, apart from coastal Mississippi, but was building in western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle.  Extreme drought covering 0.80% of the region was removed.  Severe drought lessened from 4.22% to 1.36%.  Moderate drought eased from 10.79% to 6.75%.  The spatial extent of abnormal dryness increased slightly, from 21.85% to 22.10 %.


Some areas of the Midwest received ample rainfall, while other parts of the region were dry.  Much of northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, the upper peninsula of Michigan, central Missouri and western Kentucky were dry, with a precipitation deficit of 1.5 to 3 inches for May.  Areas of extreme rainfall occurred in eastern Michigan, northeast Illinois and southern Missouri, where rainfall amounted to 3-6 or more inches above average.  Temperatures across the region were normal to 4 degrees below normal, with a small area of northwest Minnesota that was up to 10 degrees below normal.

No drought existed in the Midwest in May, but areas of abnormal dryness increased.  At the start of May, two small areas of dryness existed in west central Minnesota and central Michigan. By the end of the month, abnormal dryness covered much of northern Minnesota, parts of Iowa and southwest Wisconsin.  Abnormal dryness increased from 1.49% to 13.01%.

High Plains

May precipitation was normal to 3 inches below normal across much of the region.  The drier areas were mostly in Wyoming and North Dakota.  Central South Dakota, Nebraska and eastern Kansas received normal to 3 inches above normal precipitation. 

Temperatures were mostly normal to 4 degrees cooler than normal from the Dakotas to Kansas.  Colorado experienced temperatures 2 to 6 degrees above normal across much of the state.  In Wyoming, temperatures were slightly cool in the northeast, and a little warm in the south.

Drought increased in the High Plains, with conditions deteriorating in southern Colorado, western Kansas and southwestern North Dakota.  Two pockets of extreme drought developed in southern and southeastern Colorado, spilling into western Kansas.  At the end of the month, 3.98% of the region was in extreme drought.  Severe drought increased from 7.15% to 10.83%, while moderate drought expanded from 12.69% to 20.51%, and abnormal dryness increased from 34.46% to 39.70%.



Rainfall was normal to an inch below normal across much of the West, with drier areas seeing deficits of 1 to 2 inches in southwestern Montana, north central Utah and eastern New Mexico, with localized higher deficits. The Pacific Northwest, northern California and western Montana received normal to 2 inches above normal rainfall, with localized higher amounts. 

The Southwest was unusually warm with temperatures up to 6 degrees above normal, with an area of southwest Arizona enduring temperatures 8 degrees above normal.  In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures ranged from normal up to 2 degrees above normal, while in Montana, temperatures were largely 0 to 2 degrees cooler than normal with a few warm patches. 

Drought expanded and intensified in the West with new areas of extreme drought in northern Oregon and northern New Mexico.  Extreme drought expanded from 0.81% to 2.96%, while severe drought grew from 11.91% to 16.58%.  Moderate drought increased from 29.95% to 39.36%, and abnormal dryness increased from 50.06% to 58.41%.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

In Alaska, precipitation was roughly normal to slightly above across much of the state, apart from the Southeast where rainfall was up to 6 inches below normal in places.  Temperatures were mostly above average by 2 to 6 degrees, with even higher departures in the west.  The state remained free of drought and abnormal dryness.

Hawaii precipitation ranged largely from normal to 3-4 inches below normal on Oahu and eastern edges of the Big Island.  Temperatures ranged from normal up to 1-3 degrees above normal for the most part.  Abnormal dryness increased to cover most of the islands, and some moderate and severe drought developed on the Big Island and Molokai Island.  Severe drought encompassed 0.61 percent of Hawaii at the end of May, while moderate drought increased from 0.81% to 6.91%.  Abnormal dryness grew from 6.88% to 91.72%.

Puerto Rico was warm and dry in May, with precipitation largely 3 to 5 inches below normal, while temperatures ranged from normal to 4 degrees above normal.  Patches of abnormal dryness at the start of May expanded and developed into moderate drought, which covered 9.21% of the island at the end of the month.  Abnormal dryness increased from 12.52% to 49.38%.


Movers and Shakers for May 2020
StatePercent Area
Apr. 28, 2020
Percent Area
May. 26, 2020
Biggest increase in drought
New Mexico26.2237.62Moderate11.40
New Mexico13.4323.07Severe9.64
Biggest decrease in drought

May 2020 impact summary: Texas and Colorado deal with agricultural challenges; Florida sees increased fire danger

by Denise Gutzmer

The NDMC added 96 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in May as drought expanded and intensified in parts of the Great Plains and western U.S., as well as in a small part of the Southeast, while easing in southern Texas, Louisiana and Florida.  Texas and Colorado both had 17 impacts in May, documenting mostly agricultural challenges.  Florida followed with 15 impacts, largely describing the increased fire danger and fire restrictions that affected much of the state. 


Shifting drought in Texas, hay shortage

Toward the start of May, conditions were driest in southern Texas, where pastures were beginning to brown in some areas, per AgriLife Today (College Station, Texas).  South Texas ranchers were experiencing a hay shortage with bales rising in price from $35 to $40 per bale to $110 to $120 per bale, according to KRISTV NBC 6 Corpus Christi.  Ranchers were having to choose between buying hay from outside the area and selling livestock.  As the month wore on, rain fell and improved drought conditions until the area was free of drought by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, drought conditions developed in the Texas Panhandle.  Dryland cotton farmers were waiting for rain to plant, and pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to good, as reported in AgriLife Today.  Conditions were deteriorating in Far West Texas as well, with crops, pastures and rangelands suffering from dry weather and high temperatures. 


Dry Colorado crops, rangelands

Colorado experienced a largely dry May, apart from the northeast where drought eased.  Some winter wheat still failed in the northeast, while in east central Colorado, concern remained high for rangeland grass production and the condition of dryland crops, per Kiowa County Press (Eads, Colorado).  Some corn growers in southeastern Colorado were not able to plant due to continued dry conditions and low irrigation water supplies.  In southern Colorado, rangeland growth in the San Luis Valley was limited for lack of moisture.  Availability of early grazing was reduced.

Water supplies were a concern in western Colorado after a dry April and May.  In late May, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association issued their first call for water use cuts, asking users to reduce their use to 90 percent of normal, as reported in Montrose Daily Press. Earlier in the spring, water cuts seemed likely in July, but the following dry months hastened the cuts.  Forage production was also low on the rangelands after a dry fall, low snowpack at lower elevations and the dry spring.


Florida restrictions, wildfires

The rising fire danger, wildfires and fire restrictions were the most concerning issues for Florida in May.  Many counties banned outdoor burning as the month remained dry until the latter part. 

The Five Mile Swamp Fire began in Santa Rosa County on May 4 and grew into a 250-acre fire that was 40 percent contained by the morning of May 6, per Fort Myers News-Press.  By the evening of May 6, the blaze, driven by high winds and low humidity, had scorched more than 2,000 acres.  Evacuations were recommended for 1,100 homes.

In Collier County in southwest Florida, two wildfires merged in mid-May, creating an 8,000-acre fire, dubbed the 36th Avenue SE fire.  The blaze led to mandatory evacuations, closed a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 75 and destroyed more than a dozen homes, according to Tampa Bay Times.  As of May 21, the fire had burned 8,250 acres and was 95 percent contained, per WINK News (Fort Myers, Fla.). 


Short water supplies in southern Oregon, emergency declarations

Irrigation water supply shortages and county drought declarations were some of the issues affecting Oregonians in May.  The Klamath Project in southern Oregon has about 80,000 acre-feet of water for irrigators after a dry April, with water deliveries possibly ending by or before July, which could cause a complete loss of crop and investment, as reported by Capital Press (Salem, Oregon).  The April water allocation totaled 140,000 acre-feet. 

With the drastic cut in water supplies, making 2020 the second-worst water shortage year, the growing season looks disastrous for farmers, who were urged to idle land. The water shortage will likely mean the end of many family farms in the project, according to Brad Kirby, manager and president of the Tulelake Irrigation District.

Drought prompted several counties to make drought declarations in anticipation of a difficult year.  Governor Kate Brown approved Coos County’s drought declaration on May 15, after county commissioners passed their drought declaration in April, per Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Oregon).  Other counties with similar declarations included Curry, Jackson and Klamath.  In Douglas County, officials declared an emergency drought order, due to below-average snowpack and precipitation and low stream flows, as reported in The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon).


California water supplies

As northern California remained dry, water supplies became a concern.  In Sonoma County, officials intended to request permission from the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce water levels in the Russian River this summer to conserve water stored in Lake Mendocino to reserve water for minimal late-season flows for fish, per The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California).  Rainfall was half of normal in the inland areas of Mendocino County, where Lake Mendocino retains runoff into the upper Russian River. 

After a very dry winter, the State Water Project increased its allocation to 20 percent following above-normal precipitation in May, according to the California Department of Water Resources (Sacramento).  The initial allocation in December 2019 was 10 percent, and the January estimate was increased to 15 percent.  The most recent allocation will likely be final for 2020.


Fire danger, restrictions in New Mexico

Fire danger was high in New Mexico, with dry conditions resulting in fire restrictions.  In addition to aiming to curb the incidence of wildfires, another goal in New Mexico, and elsewhere, was to protect firefighters from contracting COVID-19 because firefighters work in close proximity with each other, making it difficult to stem disease transmission. 

Three national forests in northern New Mexico were implementing fire restrictions to limit the likelihood of human-caused fires in the Carson, Cibola and Santa Fe forests, per Associated Press.  The restrictions began May 20.  Campfires and driving off designated roads were prohibited.

Campfires were also prohibited in Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico.  In addition, the New Mexico state forester imposed restrictions on fireworks, campfires and other activities on all non-municipal, non-federal and non-tribal lands statewide, due to the rising fire danger.

Fire restrictions took effect for the Navajo Nation, due to extreme drought conditions and elevated fire danger, as reported in Farmington Daily Times.  Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued an executive order based on recommendations by the Navajo Forestry Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Region Wildland Fire and Aviation Management.  Open burning and fireworks were prohibited.


Winter wheat status

Winter wheat in parts of Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma were hurt by drought and late freezes as noted in the spring wheat tours.  In Colorado, the crop is forecast at 54.2 million bushels for the southeast, east central and northeast districts of the state, according to World-Grain (Kansas City, Missouri).  Some crop abandonment was anticipated in all districts, but notably up to 25 percent in southeast Colorado. 

Drought and freeze damage was a problem for Kansas wheat, where yield estimates were as low as 41.1 bushels per acre in north central Kansas, where the precipitation deficit was around 5 inches, per DTN – The Progressive Farmer (Birmingham, Alabama).  Yield estimates were 42.5 bushels per acre in west central Kansas and 32.9 in southwest Kansas, as reported by DTN – The Progressive Farmer.  Many winter wheat fields in western Oklahoma and southwest Kansas were being plowed under, according to Oklahoma Farm Report (Oklahoma City).


For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.