Drought and Climate for October 2020: Drought worsens in West, improves in Northeast

by Curtis Riganti


On a national scale, drought generally increased and worsened in the West and improved in the Northeast, though there were some sub-regional exceptions to this. Large expansions of extreme and exceptional drought took place in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Severe and extreme drought coverage lessened substantially in New England. Changes to drought in the central part of the country were more variable, though drought conditions generally degraded or persisted north of Interstate 70 in the Great Plains. Drought conditions generally worsened in Hawaii, particularly on the northeast halves of the respective islands. Nationally, moderate drought coverage increased from 42.59 to 45.1%, severe drought coverage increased from 27.37 to 28.9%, extreme drought coverage increased from 14.63 to 17.76%, and exceptional drought coverage grew from 1.2 to 2.85%. For more regional details, please see the paragraphs below.

Drought Outlook

During November, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting drought to persist across much of the country where it is already ongoing, though there are some regional deviations from this. Drought removal or improvement is forecast in parts of the Northwest, northwest Oklahoma, central Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and parts of New England. Drought development is forecast in southeast Georgia and South Carolina, central and southern Texas, and interior portions of southern California. Drought improvement or removal is also forecast to occur across a large portion of Hawaii this month.


Over the course of October, the warmest weather (compared to normal) occurred in the southwest and southeast portions of the continental United States, while the central U.S., in particular the northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest, saw below-normal temperatures. The coldest readings, compared to normal, were from Montana eastward to western Wisconsin, where temperatures between 6 and 9 degrees colder than normal were widespread. In contrast, temperatures from 3 to 6 degrees above normal were common in the Southeast, and temperatures from 6 to 9 degrees warmer than normal also occurred in much of California. For more details on regional temperature variability, please see the regional paragraphs below.


Precipitation across the continental U.S. was quite variable during October. Compared to normal for the month, the driest areas were in the northern Sierra Nevada, Nevada, northern Utah and adjacent southeast Idaho, central and western Colorado, a swath from northeast Colorado to northeast Missouri, and central and southern Texas. Meanwhile, wet conditions occurred in northwest Wyoming, western Montana, much of the Ohio River Valley, and from southwest Louisiana to western Virginia. Drier weather occurred on the eastern portions of the respective Hawaiian islands, while precipitation was more variable in Alaska and Puerto Rico. For more regional details, please see the regional paragraphs below.

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


Drought and dryness improved in much of New England during October, though some degradation occurred in Pennsylvania and New York, where October precipitation was near or below normal. In New England, areas of moderate, severe, and extreme drought shrank considerably, as several large precipitation events occurred in New England. At the end of the month, most of northern Maine and northern New Hampshire had received above-normal precipitation. Temperature anomalies varied across the northern part of the region, while temperatures generally leaned 1 to 4 degrees warmer than normal elsewhere. At the end of October, moderate drought coverage had decreased from 45.34 to 37.14%, severe drought coverage had decreased from 26.3 to 6.25%, and extreme drought coverage had decreased from 3.91 to 0.59%.


The Southeast remained drought free during October, though a few areas were drier than normal during October. From central Florida to the North Carolina coast, below-normal rainfall accumulated during October; a few areas along the Georgia/South Carolina border received less than a quarter of their normal rainfall for the month. Meanwhile, south Florida received above-normal rainfall, as did a corridor from central Alabama to western Virginia. Most of the region had warmer than normal conditions in October, with temperatures generally ranging between 2 and 6 degrees above normal, with isolated pockets between 6 and 8 degrees warmer than normal.


Areas of both below- and above-normal precipitation enveloped the South during October, where widespread drought was taking place in portions of Texas and Oklahoma, while most of the remainder of the region remained drought-free. Several areas of well above normal precipitation occurred in the region. One in northwest Arkansas helped to alleviate drought that was developing there. A second area of above-normal rain occurred from southwest to northeast Louisiana, partly associated with rains from Hurricane Delta. A third area of above-normal precipitation was located from the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle and northeast Texas Panhandle through parts of the northern tier of Oklahoma during an early-season winter storm. This precipitation helped to alleviate developing drought and abnormal dryness, but also led to a destructive ice storm in many areas. Southwest Arkansas and much of eastern and southern Texas received below-normal precipitation, which led to drought expansion in parts of Texas. Much of the region had below-normal or near-normal temperatures during October. Northern Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma were the coolest compared to normal, with temperatures ranging generally between 2 and 6 degrees colder than normal. Southeast Louisiana and southern and eastern Mississippi, as well as eastern Tennessee, were mostly warmer than normal, with temperatures generally 2 to 6 degrees warmer than normal for October in these areas. At the end of the month, moderate drought coverage is up from 18.56 to 24.41%, severe drought coverage increased from 12.16 to 13.32%, and extreme drought coverage increased slightly from 6.27 to 7.03%.


Changes in drought conditions during October in the Midwest varied substantially by area, and in some cases, degradations occurred that were subsequently improved by the end of the month. Substantial improvement occurred with ongoing drought in southwest Missouri, which benefitted from above-normal precipitation during October, locally double the normal amounts for October. This area of above-normal precipitation extended into southeast Missouri and northeast to northeast Ohio. Farther north in Missouri, many areas received less than half of their normal precipitation amounts for October, and this dry swath extended eastward into northern portions of Illinois and Indiana. Below-normal precipitation also occurred in northern Iowa, northwest Minnesota, and southeast Michigan. A smaller area of above-normal precipitation was located from northeast Iowa through Door County, Wisconsin to the northern Michigan Lower Peninsula. At the end of the month, 10.28% of the region was in at moderate drought, down from 11.09%; 3.6% was in severe drought, slightly up from 3.01%; and 0.48% was in extreme drought (in northwest Iowa), which all developed during October.

High Plains

During October, conditions were quite dry in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska, eastern Colorado, southeast South Dakota and adjacent northeast Nebraska, and central and eastern North Dakota. Most of these areas saw expanding or worsening drought or persistence of ongoing drought conditions. Far southern Kansas received above-normal precipitation for October as an early season winter storm moved through the central and southern Great Plains. Western South Dakota and the far northern reaches of Wyoming also received above-normal precipitation. Thanks in part to the late October cold outbreak, most of the High Plains region experienced colder than normal weather in October. Temperatures were generally 2 to 8 degrees below normal for the month, with the coldest temperature anomalies taking place in the northern stretches of the High Plains region. Over the course of October, moderate drought coverage increased from 62.11 to 72.31%, severe drought coverage increased from 36.56 to 46.97%, extreme drought coverage increased from 16.16 to 22.53%, and exceptional drought coverage increased from 0.54 to 5.05%.


Drought primarily degraded and expanded in the West region during October, though a few areas saw improving conditions after above-normal precipitation for the month. Central Washington, western Montana, and northwest Wyoming received above-normal precipitation, which led to improving conditions in these areas. In contrast, the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, Utah (particularly north-central parts of the state), Nevada, southern Idaho, southern Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada in central and northern California were drier than normal in October, and drought persisted or worsened in these areas. Most of the region had warmer than normal temperatures in October, particularly in California, Nevada, southern Utah, southwest Colorado, and Arizona, where temperatures generally ranged from 2 to 8 degrees warmer than normal. Over the course of October, moderate drought coverage increased slightly from 76.07 to 77.86%, severe drought coverage increased from 54.55 to 57.63%, extreme drought coverage was up to 40.57% from 33.11%, and exceptional drought coverage increased from 2.31 to 6.35%.  

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

In Alaska, precipitation anomalies varied across the state during October. Temperatures were 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal in western Alaska, while temperatures in southeast Alaska were a couple degrees below normal. Moderate drought in northeast Alaska slightly expanded from 0.79 to 0.85% coverage. In Hawaii, temperatures were generally 1 to 3 degrees above normal, while precipitation varied, with below-normal precipitation on the northeast parts of the islands. Severe and extreme drought formed or expanded on Maui and the Big Island, moderate drought formed in eastern O’ahu, moderate drought expanded on Kauai, and moderate and severe drought shifted to the northeast half of Ni’ihau. Moderate drought coverage in the state expanded from 39.71 to 71.82%, severe drought coverage went up from 13.33 to 19.69%, and extreme drought coverage increased from 2.25 to 3.34%. Drought-free conditions continued on Puerto Rico; temperatures were mostly within a couple degrees of normal, while precipitation varied. Most of the western two-thirds of the island saw below-normal rainfall, with the exception of the west-central coast, while southeast Puerto Rico was wetter than normal for October.

Movers and Shakers for October 2020
StatePercent Area
Sep. 29, 2020
Percent Area
Oct. 27, 2020
Biggest increase in drought
New Hampshire10.5916.73Extreme6.14
New Mexico99.92100.00Moderate0.08
New Mexico73.6585.27Severe11.62
New Mexico39.8867.12Extreme27.24
New Mexico2.907.24Exceptional4.34
New York33.8135.71Moderate1.90
New York0.015.38Severe5.37
North Dakota51.8465.07Moderate13.23
North Dakota13.9440.26Severe26.32
Rhode Island99.02100.00Severe0.98
South Dakota30.6133.19Moderate2.58
South Dakota6.7610.74Severe3.98
Biggest decrease in drought
New Hampshire100.0099.66Moderate0.34
New Hampshire95.0633.23Severe61.83
Rhode Island99.0244.39Extreme54.63

October 2020 impact summary: Drought delaying winter wheat growth, contributing to wildfires

by Denise Gutzmer

As drought intensified in the West and Great Plains and eased in the Northeast, the NDMC added 132 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in October.  Texas topped the tally with 29 impacts, while Colorado and Massachusetts followed with 24 and 13 impacts, respectively.   Drought in Texas and Colorado presented a number of agricultural challenges, while Colorado also dealt with immense wildfires.  Water supplies were of concern in Massachusetts.


Delayed wheat planting in Texas, rare birds pay a visit

Drought intensified in west Texas and expanded into the eastern part of the state in October.  Low soil moisture was a factor in delayed wheat planting in parts of western Texas as growers waited for rain to moisten the soil, according to AgriLife Today, while other growers planted and eagerly awaited rain to get the crop to germinate.  Cattle were given supplemental feed in some areas as warm, dry weather left pastures without sufficient grazing for livestock.  In Far West Texas, ranchers were planning to sell cattle toward the end of the month, per AgriLife Today.  Conditions deteriorated through the month as patches of abnormal dryness and moderate drought appeared in the eastern half of the Lone Star State.

On South Padre Island, migratory birds rarely seen there were making an appearance, as reported in Harlingen Valley Morning Star.  Drought and wildfires to the west may be driving birds into different migratory routes.  Some of the rare visitors were hundreds and even more than a thousand miles outside of their normal ranges far to the west.


Record Colorado wildfires, crop and livestock challenges

Colorado drought intensified in October as massive wildfires blackened parts of the state.  Colorado’s three largest wildfires to date, which all occurred in 2020, were the Cameron Peak Fire at more than 208,000 acres, the East Troublesome Fire at more than 193,000 acres, according to The Denver Post, and the Pine Gulch Fire at just over 139,000 acres, which was contained.  Prior to 2020, Colorado’s largest fire was the Hayman Fire, which torched 137,760 acres in 2002.

Colorado had a statewide fire ban that expired on Sept. 30, but Gov. Jared Polis extended the ban another 30 days through Nov. 4 as wildfires continued to burn in the state, as reported in The Cortez Journal.  Regardless of the statewide ban, officials for the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests recently announced that they would continue Stage 1 fire restrictions as the hunting season began.

Agricultural endeavors continued to struggle as the entire state was in drought at the end of the month.  The harvest went quickly in northeast and east central Colorado where stands were poor or crops failed, per Kiowa County Press.  Winter wheat emergence was uneven in areas, due to high winds and persistent dry conditions.  Crop producers were concerned about extreme drought and were actively making alternate fall and spring cropping plans.  Rangeland and feed availability remained primary concerns for livestock producers.


Massachusetts drought declaration, crop losses

Drought eased in Massachusetts in October, but impacts continued after a dry summer and early autumn.  The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs declared a Level 3 drought declaration, or critical drought, for southeast Massachusetts.  The other six regions in the state remained at a Level 2, or significant drought.  Residents were urged to continue conserving water as many communities had restrictions on water use.  Caution with fire was also recommended.

Drought affected Massachusetts crops as some growers did not have irrigation or adequate water supplies.  On Martha’s Vineyard, pumpkin stocks were depleted, due to demand, drought and deer, as reported by Vineyard Gazette. Pumpkins needed irrigation over the summer and did not grow as large as they typically do. Drought also reduced food supplies for deer, leading them to consume the pumpkins.  In the eastern part of the state, a Christmas tree grower near Mendon lost 500 to 600 of the 1,500 seedlings he planted in the spring, due to drought, according to WFXT-TV Fox Channel 25 Boston.


Oregon’s second worst wildfire season, water shortages

Persistent drought in Oregon since the start of the year contributed to wildfires that erupted in September and burned into October.  Severe drought, extreme winds and multiple fires led to Oregon’s second worst fire season on record, with almost 1.07 million acres burning in 2020, as reported by Statesman Journal, with most of the fires in the western half of the state.  The cost of fighting the fires was $609 million and was still climbing.  More than 4,000 homes burned.

Ongoing drought also affected water supplies.  Talent Irrigation District’s three reservoirs were at their lowest point ever at the end of the growing season, collectively holding about 6,000 acre-feet of water, according to Medford Mail Tribune.  Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant reservoirs have not been so low since they were brought online in the late 1950s and early 60s.  With a forecast for warm, dry conditions for the remainder of 2020, there is concern for having adequate water for the 2021 growing season.


Southern Great Plains winter wheat needed moisture

Conditions were dry in the southern Great Plains, and moisture for crops was lacking.  Winter wheat in Kansas had not yet germinated in some areas for lack of moisture, although it ought to be about four inches tall, as reported by KSNF.  Wheat in western Kansas was spotty and at risk from winter kill due to severe drought, per KSN-TV.  In central Kansas, wheat needed more moisture to germinate, as reported by KWCH 12.   Wheat usually sprouts immediately, but dry conditions have not allowed germination to occur.

Oklahoma’s winter wheat was up and growing, but moisture was needed as the lack of moisture was beginning to take a toll on Oklahoma’s winter wheat pasture crop, which could affect the national cattle market, according to RFD TV


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

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.