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Drought and Climate for September 2019: Southeastern U.S. sees widespread flash drought

by Curtis Riganti

Drought


During September, widespread flash drought occurred in the southeastern United States, with widespread multiple-category degradations taking place. Drought conditions also developed or worsened in central Texas, central and southwest Colorado, and parts of Arizona. Conditions improved in the Pacific Northwest, where drought conditions were mostly eradicated. Over the course of September, moderate drought coverage increased from 11.33 to 16.96 percent, severe drought coverage increased from 2.34 to 5.30 percent, and extreme drought coverage increased from 0.41 to 0.80 percent. No exceptional drought was taking place at the end of September. The population experiencing at least moderate drought more than doubled, going from 25.2 million people to about 60.9 million people.

Drought Outlook


During October, drought persistence and drought development is forecast to occur in the southeastern United States and in central Texas and the Four Corners region. A few isolated areas of drought removal are forecast in parts of the central and southern high plains, in east-central Illinois and northern Indiana, in the Michigan Lower Peninsula, and in Washington, Oregon, and the Idaho Panhandle. 

Temperatures


Most of the central and southeastern continental United States experienced well above normal temperatures during September as a large dome of high pressure dominated the weather across this region. Over the course of September, temperatures six or more degrees warmer than normal were widespread, with a few locations reaching 10 degrees above normal for the month. Closer to normal temperatures occurred in northern New England and in areas generally west of the Continental Divide, with a smattering of above- and below-normal temperatures that were generally within four degrees of normal for the month.

Precipitation


Flash drought conditions quickly developed in parts of the South and Southeast regions in September, as very low amounts of precipitation fell in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle. September rainfall was also paltry in southwest Colorado and southeast Utah as the monsoon ended. Wetter conditions occurred in eastern parts of North and South Carolina, where Hurricane Dorian delivered widespread tropical rainfall. Above-normal precipitation also occurred in much of the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Much of Montana and Wyoming also received above-normal precipitation where a powerful early-season winter storm dropped large amounts of snow. 

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


Northeast

September precipitation amounts below 25 percent of normal were widespread in West Virginia, Maryland, southeast New Hampshire, and the New York City area. In western New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, temperatures were generally 2 to 4 degrees warmer than normal, while readings 4 to 8 degrees above normal were common in Maryland and West Virginia. At the end of September, abnormal dryness covered large sections of the Northeast. Moderate drought developed in eastern Maryland and adjacent parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware, and moderate and severe drought developed in southern West Virginia. At the end of the month, moderate drought covered 8.49 percent of the region, and severe drought covered 2.23 percent.

Southeast

Flash drought quickly developed in September across parts of the Southeast as a combination of unusually hot temperatures and well below normal rainfall produced rapidly drying conditions and agricultural drought impacts. Above-normal rainfall fell in northeast South Carolina and in parts of the North Carolina Coastal Plain as Hurricane Dorian tracked near the southeast coast. However, most other parts of the Southeast received very little rainfall for the month, and many areas received less than 25 percent of their normal September rain. Temperatures in Florida were generally 2 to 4 degrees warmer than normal, but elsewhere, temperatures 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal were common. September ended with 44.26 percent of the Southeast experiencing moderate drought, up from 5.72 at the start of the month. Severe drought coverage increased from 0.20 percent to 13.71 percent, and extreme drought also developed, covering 1.87 percent of the region by the end of September.

South

Warmer than normal temperatures were widespread across the South in September, while precipitation anomalies varied across the region. The northeast Texas coast and far southwest Louisiana received well above normal rainfall due to slow-moving Tropical Storm Imelda, which caused widespread flooding in these areas. Meanwhile, central and north-central Texas received generally less than 25 percent of normal rainfall for September. Less than 25 percent of normal rainfall fell in much of Tennessee, Mississippi, and northeast Louisiana. Temperatures across most of the region were 4 to 10 degrees warmer than normal. During September, regional moderate drought coverage increased from 23.90 to 33.94 percent, severe drought coverage increased from 5.87 to 13.74 percent, and extreme drought coverage increased from 1.14 to 3.20 percent.

Midwest

Precipitation in the Midwest varied from generally above normal north of the Interstate 70 corridor to below normal south of I-70. Extremely dry conditions occurred in Kentucky; nearly the entire state received less than 25 percent of normal September rainfall, and parts of Kentucky received little more than a trace of rainfall during the month. Combined with hot temperatures in the southern half of the region (temperatures 4 to 10 degrees warmer than normal were widespread in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky), this led to the development of a flash drought in much of Kentucky and in adjacent parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In contrast, precipitation exceeding 150 percent of normal was widespread in the Upper Midwest, and northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin received greater than three times their normal September rainfall in some locations. During September, moderate drought coverage increased from 5.03 to 11.99 percent, and severe and extreme drought developed, covering 5.07 and 0.32 percent of the Midwest at the end of September, respectively.

High Plains

Well above normal precipitation occurred in September in North and South Dakota; parts of western North Dakota and northwest South Dakota received as much as six times their normal September precipitation. Drier conditions occurred in parts of central and southwest Kansas and in southeast Colorado, where some locations received less than 25 percent of normal September rainfall. Temperatures were generally 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal in eastern Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, while slightly warmer than normal temperatures were more common in eastern Wyoming and in North and South Dakota. During September, moderate drought coverage increased from 1.10 to 6.42 percent.

West

With the exceptions of central and southern Colorado, southern Utah, northern Arizona, and northeast New Mexico, much of the West received near-normal or above-normal precipitation in September. Temperature anomalies varied across the region during September. Compared to normal for September, the warmest areas were in eastern New Mexico and central and southern Colorado, where temperatures from 4 to 8 degrees warmer than normal were widespread. Southern Utah and western New Mexico were generally 2 to 6 degrees above normal. Elsewhere, near normal and slightly above and below normal temperatures took place. During September, moderate drought coverage increased from 11.22 to 16.32 percent, and severe drought coverage increased from 1.07 to 3.16 percent. 

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Drought conditions improved in south-central Alaska during September, where extreme and severe drought were eradicated, though moderate drought was still taking place in a few areas. Moderate, severe, and extreme drought continued in the Alaska Panhandle, though the coverage of moderate drought here decreased. Across Alaska, moderate drought coverage decreased from 17.84 to 5.03 percent, severe drought coverage decreased from 6.77 to 2.00 percent, and extreme drought coverage decreased from 1.50 to 0.88 percent. Moderate drought coverage in Hawaii decreased from 21.67 to 17.85 percent, while severe drought coverage increased from 3.88 to 6.15 percent and extreme drought coverage increased from 1.16 to 1.55 percent. Moderate drought coverage in Puerto Rico decreased from 19.20 to 7.93 percent, and severe drought was eradicated after covering 13.23 percent of Puerto Rico at the beginning of September.

Movers and Shakers for September 2019
StatePercent Area
Aug. 27, 2019
Percent Area
Sep. 24, 2019
StatusChange
Biggest increase in drought
Alabama10.7830.18Moderate19.40
Alabama1.534.88Severe3.35
Arizona19.4785.47Moderate66.00
Arkansas0.419.16Moderate8.75
California1.092.06Moderate0.97
Colorado1.9810.81Moderate8.83
Florida1.6421.43Moderate19.79
Georgia6.9756.20Moderate49.23
Hawaii5.006.15Severe1.15
Hawaii1.161.52Extreme0.36
Indiana1.4819.23Moderate17.75
Kansas2.604.91Moderate2.31
Louisiana2.2218.11Moderate15.89
New Mexico28.4932.69Moderate4.20
New Mexico2.906.81Severe3.91
North Carolina6.7128.83Moderate22.12
South Carolina17.5944.58Moderate26.99
South Carolina0.6514.75Severe14.10
Tennessee0.3760.76Moderate60.39
Texas37.5848.33Moderate10.75
Texas8.7519.69Severe10.94
Texas1.213.50Extreme2.29
Utah1.0916.33Moderate15.24
Biggest decrease in drought
Alaska17.8410.36Moderate7.48
Alaska6.772.65Severe4.12
Alaska1.500.88Extreme0.62
Hawaii21.6717.85Moderate3.82
Idaho4.652.72Moderate1.93
Illinois7.636.31Moderate1.32
Michigan6.961.83Moderate5.13
Montana3.440.09Moderate3.35
Oklahoma18.4711.41Moderate7.06
Oklahoma7.942.10Severe5.84
Oregon10.830.98Moderate9.85
Washington57.517.59Moderate49.92
Puerto Rico21.4216.67Moderate4.75
Puerto Rico14.347.24Severe7.10

September 2019 impact summary: Southeastern flash drought damages crop production, increases fire danger

by Denise Gutzmer

Drought expanded significantly in the Southeast and Texas in September as dry conditions hurt crop production and increased the fire danger.  While fall is typically fire season for some parts of the country, drought dramatically elevated the fire risk, prompting a large number of drought-driven burn bans in Texas, parts of the southern Midwest and across the Southeast.  Pasture and crop production was hindered in much of the drought-affected parts of the U.S., with livestock producers starting to feed hay early and dipping into winter supplies months ahead of schedule, which may lead to shortages and higher costs for producers during the winter.  In addition, many parts of the country experienced their near hottest or driest Septembers on record, promoting the development of flash drought or drought intensification in many areas.

Texas had the most impacts (39) in September as various parts of the state endured drought, affecting agriculture and livestock and ramping up fire risk.  Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky followed with 22, 20 and 15 impacts, respectively, as drought harmed crops and increased the fire danger and activity. 

 

Texas

At the start of September, much of Texas was abnormally dry or in drought, which affected pastures across much of the state.  Some producers were already feeding livestock hay and supplemental feed, which only increased as the month progressed.  Calves were weaned early and sold.  Cattle prices dropped as the state beef herd hit an eight-year high of 4.65 million head, and drought caused producers to cull cattle earlier and deeper than usual, among other factors. 

Texas Crop and Weather Report – Sept. 4, 2019, by Adam Russell, North Texas e-News (Fannin, Texas), Sept. 5, 2019

Texas Crop and Weather Report – Sept. 24, 2019, by Adam Russell, The Bryan College-Station Eagle (Texas), Sept. 25, 2019

Drought also heightened the fire risk across Texas, leading many counties to enact burn bans.  As of Sept. 10, about two-thirds (171 out of 254) of the counties in the state had bans on burning. 

171 counties in Texas under a burn ban, by Andrew Wilson, KENS 5 TV (San Antonio, Texas), Sept. 10, 2019

 

Dry pastures in Alabama, elevated fire danger, respiratory issues

The hot, dry summer parched agricultural endeavors in Alabama.  Pastures were dry, forcing many cattle producers to feed hay early, although that does not typically begin until late October or November.  In the southeast, cattle producers were paying extra for hay and supplemental feed, while farmers who irrigated heavily out of necessity were being hit with exorbitant electricity bills.  Late-planted crops were most affected by the dry weather and may have extreme yield reductions.

Parched pastures affecting Alabama cattle farmers, by Make Cason, AL.com (Birmingham, Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019

Farmers impacted as heat wave continues, by Randi Hildreth, WSFA-TV NBC 12 Montgomery (Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019

Peanut growers in southeast Alabama were having a particularly difficult time harvesting their crop.  Farmers were expected to harvest less than 3,200 pounds per acre, which is below average.  Because of drought, peanuts were smaller, and producers estimate 10 to 20 percent of the peanut crop was lost to drought.  The hard, dry ground was also hard on machinery, causing blade breakages and dulling the blades quickly.  Dull blades result in a lower harvest.

Peanut crops suffering from drought conditions, by Eric DoBroka, WTVY.com (Dothan, Alabama), Sept. 24, 2019

As drought and heat increased the fire danger in Alabama, the state Forestry Commission issued a Fire Danger Advisory for all counties on Sept. 16.  The AFC upgraded the fire danger advisory to a statewide fire alert on Sept. 25.  The fire alert meant that permits for outdoor burning were restricted and issued on an individual basis at the discretion of the state forester.  The state’s drought status and elevated fire danger prompted the move to a fire alert. 

Fire Danger Advisory issued for every Alabama county, by John Shryock and Samantha Day, WSFA-TV NBC 12 Montgomery (Alabama), Sept. 16, 2019

Alabama Forestry Commission upgrades advisory to statewide fire alert, Dothan Eagle & Dothan Progress (Alabama), Sept. 25, 2019

The hot, dry conditions in Alabama affected the health of people with chronic respiratory issues because there has been little rain in weeks to remove dust, pollen and mold particles from the air.  As a result, more patients were being seen for respiratory issues at the Huntsville Hospital’s Lung Center in northeast Alabama.  Similar concerns were occurring in Middle Tennessee. 

Respiratory issues being amplified by the drought, WAFF-TV NBC 48 Huntsville (Alabama), Sept. 30, 2019

Drought having an impact on allergies, by Mary Mays, WKRN News 2 (Nashville, Tennessee), Oct. 1, 2019

 

Tennessee pastures, livestock hurt by drought

The drought in Tennessee affected pastures, crops and livestock in September.  In northern Tennessee, pastures were dry, leaving undesirable weeds growing and forcing livestock producers to begin feeding hay about a month and a half early.  Livestock producers in Putnam and Jackson counties lost livestock to poisoning from eating the perilla mint weed, which can be toxic in large quantities.  The ground was too hard to plant forage crops. Ponds dried up, leaving producers to haul water for livestock.

In eastern Tennessee, farmers at the Knoxville Livestock Auction were not interested in buying cattle, given the drought and the absence of pasture growth.  Even weeds were not growing.  Area farmers were only able to get two cuttings of hay, instead of the usual three.

Dry Conditions Causing Issues For Area Farmers, by Rafferty Cleary, News Talk 941 (Cookeville, Tennessee), Sept. 30, 2019

East TN cattle farmers feeling impact of drought-like conditions, by Kirstie Crawford, WATE-TV ABC 6 Knoxville (Tennessee), Oct. 2, 2019

Unseasonably hot, dry weather also led the Tennessee Division of Forestry to require permits for outdoor burning earlier than normal.  The burn permit season typically runs from Oct. 15 through May 15, but the increased fire danger prompted the TDF to increase oversight of outdoor burning.

Burn bans issued, Tennessee burn permit season to begin early, by Slater Teague, WJHL-TV (Johnson City, Tennessee), Sept. 18, 2019

 

Agriculture, water quality concerns in Kentucky

Heat and dry weather have hurt agriculture and livestock across Kentucky.  Pasture conditions were deteriorating and some farm ponds were drying up.  Some producers in the southeast have sold cattle out of concern for hay supplies through the winter after hay feeding began two months early.  Farmers markets in the southeast part of the state appeared to be on track to close by the end of September, although they normally remain open through October.

High Heat And Dry Conditions Stick Around Across Kentucky, by Stu Johnson, WEKU/WEKH/WEKF NPR & Classical Music (Richmond, Kentucky), Sept. 13, 2019

The low flow of the Kentucky River posed problems for those relying on the river for drinking water.  In Frankfort, the water had a foul taste and odor, but was safe to drink.  The Frankfort water provider initially posted about the water’s aesthetics on Facebook on Sept. 12. Kentucky American Water, supplying water to other cities in central Kentucky, also described an unpleasant taste and odor to the water on its Facebook page. Georgetown water customers were dealing with the same issues. 

Plant Board addresses taste and odor in water, social media rumors, by McKenna Horsley, The State-Journal (Frankfort, Kentucky), Sept. 19, 2019

Water quality complaints in Georgetown, LEX18 Lexington KY News, Sept. 20, 2019

 

Virginia pastures, crop production down

Crops and livestock production in Virginia suffered amid a dry September.  From far southwest Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley, farmers were lamenting poor pastures, feeding hay two to three months early and hauling water where supplies had dried up.  Hay cuttings were smaller than normal.  Calves were being sold early rather than allowing them to put on weight before sale.  Corn yields were down.

More than half of Virginia is now in a moderate drought, straining the state's farmers, by Bob Brown, Prince George County, Virginia, Sept. 28, 2019

In southern Virginia, drought was very hard on tobacco and hay in Danville and the Pittsylvania County area. Cattle grazed down pastures, leaving farmers to supplement hay. One farmer noted that there wasn’t much hay and the quality wasn’t very good. Producers will need to buy hay from elsewhere or sell cattle.

Heat and drought also damaged the tobacco, adversely affecting quality and quantity. Buyers have warned that they will not buy or will offer lower prices for browned tobacco.

Unless miracle rain appears, Dan River Region headed for driest September on record as farms and landscapers struggle, by Caleb Ayers, Go Dan River.com (Danville, Virginia), Sept. 24, 2019

Flash drought also affected the level of the Potomac River running along the Virginia-Maryland border.  The river was low enough to be safely crossed on foot at Point of Rocks, Maryland.  The water level at the Point of Rocks gauge was just eight inches above the record low set in 1966.

Thanks to a flash drought, you can now cross from Virginia to Maryland without a boat or a bridge, by Scott Broom, WUSA9.com (Washington, D.C.), Sept. 27, 2019

 

Water supplies affected in West Virginia

Dry conditions in West Virginia elevated the fire danger and depleted water supplies.  On Sept. 20, Gov. Jim Justice issued a statewide burn ban on most outdoor burning, due to drought and limited water supplies in some communities. 

WVa governor bans most outdoor burning due to drought, by Associated Press, Sept. 20, 2019

Water supplies were low in Greenbrier and Union counties in the southeast part of the state as the Greenbrier River was low.  Greenbrier County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management posted notices on its Facebook page on Sept. 29 and 30, urging residents to conserve water with the goal of avoiding mandatory restrictions. 

Drought threatens drinking water supplies in Southern WV counties, by Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), Sept. 30, 2019

 

North Carolina water supplies low

Water supplies were low in western North Carolina, with some communities asking for water conservation.  In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, springs were flowing more slowly, prompting park authorities to warn hikers and campers to carry extra water.  There were also a number of backcountry campsites without water.  A temporary ban on backcountry campfires took effect to reduce the likelihood of wildfires. 

Smokies place ban on backcountry fires, WATE-TV ABC 6 KnoxvilleWATE-TV ABC 6 Knoxville (Tennessee), Sept. 26, 2019

 

Water crisis in Alaska

At the start of September, several communities in southern Alaska were extremely low on water.  On the Kenai Peninsula, a local disaster declaration had been issued for Seldovia and Nanwalek as drought dried up wells and reservoirs.  Drinking water was delivered to several communities as towns sought solutions to their water crises.  By the end of the month, sufficient rain had fallen to replenish water supplies.

Alaska communities used to have plenty of fresh water. Then came severe drought, by Kirsten Swann, Alaska Public Media (Anchorage), Sept. 4, 2019

Low water supply in two Kenai Peninsula communities prompts disaster declaration, by Tegan Hanlon, Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aug. 31, 2019

Water levels restored in Alaska communities hit by drought, by Associated Press, Sept. 26, 2019

 

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

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.