Drought and Climate for November 2018: Drought persists in much of western U.S.

by Curtis Riganti


Across the nation, severe, extreme, and exceptional drought decreased in aerial coverage in response to precipitation in the West, while moderate drought slightly increased in coverage. Exceptional drought coverage decreased from 1.35 to 1.17 percent, extreme drought from 4.65 to 3.79 percent, and severe drought from 12.56 to 11.34 percent; moderate drought coverage increased from 22 to 22.18 percent.

Drought Outlook

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center forecasts that the drought areas in North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon will persist during December. Drought persistence is also forecast in the northeastern two-thirds of Utah. Meanwhile, drought improvement or removal is forecast to occur in most of California, the southern three quarters of Nevada, southwestern Utah, most of Arizona, and most of New Mexico, excluding far northern New Mexico.


A colder than normal pattern controlled the weather for much of November to the east of the Rocky Mountains, with the exception of the Florida Peninsula. The coldest conditions, compared to normal, occurred from Missouri into the Upper Midwest, where temperatures were commonly 6 to 10 degrees below normal for the month. Meanwhile, warmer than normal conditions were common in the west coast states.


The driest conditions compared to normal in November occurred in Oregon and parts of the Four Corners region. Meanwhile, very wet weather occurred in much of the eastern United States (particularly the upper mid-Atlantic Coast and southern New England) and in parts of the central Rockies.

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


During November, most of the Northeast received above-normal precipitation. The highest departures from normal occurred from eastern Pennsylvania through southern Maine, where 8-11 inches of precipitation fell during the month, with isolated higher totals. The Northeast experienced cooler than normal temperatures during November. Temperature anomalies ranged from a couple degrees below normal to as many as 8-10 degrees colder than normal. The coldest temperatures, compared to normal readings for November, generally occurred in western New York and southern Maine. During November, the above-normal precipitation allowed for the removal of severe and moderate drought (which had covered 2.4 and 0.11 percent of the region) from northern New York and northern Vermont, such that only abnormally dry conditions remained as of December 4. 


Over the past month, above-normal precipitation fell in most of the Southeast, excluding southern Florida. The highest departures from normal precipitation amounts occurred from northern Georgia through Virginia, where upwards of 150 percent of normal precipitation for November fell, and amounts exceeded 6.5 inches in some locations. Temperatures in the Southeast were generally cooler than normal during November. The coldest areas compared to normal November readings stretched from northern Alabama into northern Virginia, where temperatures dipped from 4 to 8 degrees below normal for the month. Temperatures in the drier Florida Peninsula were generally near normal or 2-4 degrees above normal. Over the course of November, moderate drought was removed from the South Carolina and Georgia Coastal Plains, while moderate drought developed in parts of the Florida Peninsula. For the region, moderate drought coverage increased from 0.62 to 1.56 percent.


Relatively wet conditions occurred in November in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi, while other parts of the region generally received normal or slightly below normal precipitation for the month. The highest precipitation amounts, with some areas receiving between 6.4 and 11 inches of rain for the month, were generally found from eastern Texas into southeastern Arkansas and Mississippi. The South was mostly cooler than normal for November, with widespread areas of 4 to 6 degrees below normal and isolated colder spots. During November, severe drought, which covered 0.22 percent of the region, was eliminated from southwestern Texas, and moderate drought was reduced in this area. Elsewhere, across the month, the already sparse drought coverage remained fairly unchanged. Moderate drought coverage decreased from 1.14 to 0.82 percent.


Relatively wet conditions occurred in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, while near normal or drier than normal conditions were common elsewhere. Much of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio received over 150 percent of their normal November precipitation.  Compared to normal November precipitation, the driest areas of the region were western Missouri, southeastern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota. Temperatures during November were quite cool. Much of the region saw temperatures 6 to 10 degrees colder than normal; eastern Kentucky and eastern Ohio were relative warm spots, with temperatures generally 2 to 6 degrees below normal there. The Midwest was drought free at the beginning of December, as a small area of moderate drought in mid-Missouri was removed, constituting a 0.14 percent reduction in drought coverage.

High Plains

Precipitation was variable across the High Plains region during November. Western and southern North Dakota, northeastern South Dakota, western Nebraska, parts of central Kansas, and much of Wyoming received above-normal precipitation, with some areas receiving more than 150 percent of their normal November precipitation. The remainder of the region was either near or drier than normal for precipitation during November, with the driest areas being southern and eastern Kansas and east-central Colorado. Temperatures during the month were generally colder than normal. The coldest areas were on the eastern sides of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, where temperatures were 4-8 degrees below normal. Drought conditions mostly improved during November in the High Plains. Moderate drought was removed from central South Dakota, severe drought was removed from and moderate drought reduced in northern North Dakota, moderate drought was removed from northeastern Kansas, and severe drought was reduced in south-central Wyoming. Severe drought was reduced from 13.31 to 11.84 percent coverage, and moderate drought was reduced from 20.69 to 18.44 percent coverage.


Precipitation varied across the West, with some areas in drought receiving precipitation and some remaining dry. The wettest area compared to normal was central California, where many areas received at least 1.5 inches during the month, with some locations receiving 3 to 9 inches. Much of Oregon and the southern part of Washington received below-normal precipitation for the month, with many locations receiving less than 75 percent of normal precipitation for November. Wetter conditions occurred in parts of central Utah, while southeastern Utah remained dry for the month. Southeastern Arizona, southwestern Colorado, and western New Mexico also were quite dry for the month. Far northwestern Montana was also very dry, while the eastern Montana plains were wet for November, with some locations receiving over 200 percent of normal. The west coast states were warmer than normal for November, with the warmest temperatures (4 to 6 degrees above normal) taking place in California. Normal or below-normal temperatures were common in western Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and western Colorado. Exceptional drought was reduced in the Four Corners area and removed from the Sangre de Cristo range in south-central Colorado. Extreme drought was introduced in southern coastal California and near the California-Oregon state line. Severe drought was removed from northwestern Montana and southwestern Oregon, and was reduced in adjacent northern California. Moderate drought was expanded in Nevada, California, and southeastern Washington, and was reduced in southern Arizona and eastern New Mexico. Exceptional drought coverage dropped from 3.42 to 2.98 percent, extreme drought coverage from 11.8 to 9.62 percent, severe drought from 31.31 to 28.75 percent, and moderate drought coverage increased from 52.75 to 54.49 percent.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

No changes were made to the moderate drought in Alaska during November, and Hawaii and Puerto Rico remained drought free. However, abnormally dry conditions developed on the westward-facing slopes of most of the Hawaiian Islands. Abnormally dry conditions also expanded in Puerto Rico, particularly in south-central Puerto Rico and in the northwestern coastal region of the island.

Movers and Shakers for November 2018
StatePercent Area
Oct. 30, 2018
Percent Area
Nov. 27, 2018
Biggest increase in drought
South Carolina2.052.58Moderate0.53
Biggest decrease in drought
New Mexico64.3045.46Moderate18.84
New Mexico44.4335.85Severe8.58
New Mexico22.0820.67Extreme1.41
New Mexico15.5015.05Exceptional0.45

November 2018 impact summary: Western U.S. faces water supply concerns, deadly wildfires

by Denise Gutzmer

November was dry in much of the western U.S., with drought intensifying in southern Washington State and parts of California and Nevada.  In November, the NDMC added 29 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter.  Eight of the impacts were for California, describing fire activity enhanced by dry vegetation after years of drought.  Oregon and Arizona were not far behind with four and three impacts, respectively, documenting water supply concerns and other impacts.

California records its most destructive wildfire

The deadliest and most destructive fire in the Golden State’s history, the Camp Fire, burned 153,000 acres in Butte County; destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings and 4,293 other buildings; and ended at least 88 lives since it began on Nov. 8.  The apocalyptic blaze swept through Paradise in a matter of hours, so quickly that many were trapped by flames as they tried to flee.

Prior to the Camp Fire sweeping through Paradise in Butte County, the area was miserably parched, receiving just one-seventh of an inch, compared to the five inches of precipitation normally received over the summer and early fall.  Vegetation was tinder dry. 

Camp Fire death toll grows to 29, matching 1933 blaze as state’s deadliest, by Erin Baldassari, The East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, California), Nov. 12, 2018

The deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California’s history has finally been contained, by Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 26, 2018

As autumn rain in California vanishes amid global warming, fires worsen, by Rong-Gong Lin II, Matt Hamilton and Joseph Serna, The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 2018

Camp Fire (2018)

The Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties charred 96,949 acres, consumed 1,500 structures, and resulted in three deaths as the wind-driven flames drove Malibu residents from their homes.  Evacuations lasted more than a week for some people as firefighters strove to contain the blaze.  The fire charred historic movie and TV sets, as well as the homes of celebrities. 

Evacuation orders lifted as tally of buildings destroyed by Woolsey Fire swells to 1,500, by Jenna Chandler, Curbed LA (Los Angeles), Nov. 19, 2018

Woolsey Fire

The dry fall and start to the water year that had parts of the state primed for wildfires also meant low initial water allocations for the State Water Project.  On November 30, the California Department of Water Resources announced the initial water allocation of 10 percent for State Water Project contractors for the 2019 calendar year, due to a dry start to the 2019 water year.  In addition, many large reservoirs were below average, stated DWR Director Karla Nemeth.  Lake Oroville, for example, was low at 29 percent of capacity and 48 percent of average for this time of year.

Initial State Water Project Allocation at 10 Percent, California Department of Water Resources, Nov. 30, 2018

Low river flows affecting salmon in Oregon

Precipitation and snowpack were below normal in Oregon, where temperatures were above normal in the western and northeastern parts of the state since the start of the water year on October 1.   Soil moisture, stream flows and mountain snowpack were all lower than usual, which did not bode well, given the ongoing drought. 

In Douglas County in southwestern Oregon, low river flows and warm water temperatures caused a delay in coho spawning, as low water levels prevented fish from swimming upstream, according to Evan Leonetti, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Roseburg.  The cold-water fish were also more susceptible to predation.  Since coho can spawn until spring, there was still time for the spawn to occur.  Also in extreme southwestern Oregon, the Chetco River in Curry County was flowing too slowly at 89.7 cubic feet per second to allow salmon to swim upstream to spawn, leaving the fish congregating in deeper pools. 

Oregon water year off to slow start, by George Plavin, Capital Press – Agriculture Weekly (Salem, Oregon), Dec. 7, 2018

Despite rain, county remains in drought, by Saphara Harrell, The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon), Nov. 25, 2018

Drought Creates Great Rock Fishing and Bay Salmon Trolling, by Larry Ellis, My Outdoor Buddy (Oregon), Nov. 10, 2018

Colorado wildfires aided by heat, drought

Extreme heat and drought drove northwestern Colorado’s worst fire season in recent years. More than 200 fires scorched 169 square miles in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties in 2018. The area burned in 2018 was more than twice that burned in 2017 and more than in any fire season in the past 20 years.

Heat, drought drove 2018 fires in northwestern Colorado, Associated Press, Nov. 11, 2018

Christmas tree supply still affected by 2012 drought

From the Pacific Northwest through the Midwest, there is a Christmas tree shortage related to the 2008 recession, when tree growers planted fewer trees, and the 2012 drought that killed and damaged innumerable trees.  Some local examples were:

  • Drought and too few mature trees were to blame for the higher prices for Christmas trees in the Northwest.  A Portland Christmas tree grower planted 9,000 trees in the spring, but nearly all of them, except for a couple hundred, died from drought. The trees that the grower did have for sale sold quickly.
  • The 2012 drought cost Nebraska farmers thousands of Christmas trees as 75 to 80 percent of newly planted trees died.  A tree grower in Crete in southeast Nebraska lost more than 1,800 trees in 2012. 
  • Drought in northeast Kansas during the 2018 summer killed the youngest Christmas trees.  The tree farm had not yet recovered from the 2012 and 2013 drought that killed many trees and will still be feeling the loss for another year or two. 
  • A Christmas tree grower in Moline, Illinois, was still hurting after the 2012 drought devastated his trees, killing 2,000 seedlings. In 2012, rain did not fall from late May through August.  Years later in 2018, the tree grower quickly sold out of his tallest trees and ended sales for the year.
  • Christmas tree farms in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area were still recovering from the 2012 drought that killed and damaged trees. An ongoing impact from the drought is that fewer large trees have been available during the holiday season since the drought. The owner of one tree farm stated that in two to three years they would finally have more six-foot-tall Christmas trees available.

Drought, Tree Shortage to Blame for Christmas Tree Price Hike, by Tyler Jones, KEZI-TV ABC 9 (Springfield, Oregon), Nov. 26, 2018

Growers say drought hurts Oregon Christmas tree crop, by Audrey Weil, KPTV-TV Fox 12 Beaverton (Oregon), Nov. 24, 2018

Local stores react to National Christmas tree shortage, by Kelly Saberi, Kansas First News KSNT News (Topeka, Kansas), Nov. 29, 2018

Local tree farmers impacted by 2012 drought, by Abbie Petersen, KOLN-TV CBS 10/KGIN-TV CBS 11 Lincoln-Grand Island (Nebraska), Nov. 27, 2018

2012 drought wipes out 2018 Christmas sales at Wyffels Tree Farm in Moline, by John David, WQAD-TV 8 (Davenport/Rock Island/Moline) (Iowa), Nov. 20, 2018

Drought hurts Christmas tree supply, by Dave Gong, Journal Gazette.net (Fort Wayne, Indiana), Nov. 17, 2018


For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.