Drought and Climate for August 2020: Heat, lack of rain intensified drought in the West

by Denise Gutzmer


A hot, dry August led to the intensification of drought in already parched parts of the U.S.  The area of the U.S. and Puerto Rico experiencing abnormal dryness or drought (D0-D4) increased from 47.84 percent to 49.99 percent, for an uptick of 2.15 percent in August.  Drought worsened mainly in the West and Texas, but also slightly in parts of the Northeast.  Rainfall improved dryness largely in the eastern third of the U.S. and in Puerto Rico.

Drought Outlook

For September, the National Weather Service Prediction Center is forecasting drought to persist in much of the West and Iowa.  Drought is forecast to remain but improve in Texas, Oklahoma, and the Northeast.  Drought removal is likely in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and the Northeast.  Drought is likely to develop along the edges of the existing drought in the northwest quadrant of the U.S., across Nebraska and western Kansas. 


Unseasonably hot temperatures baked the western U.S., where temperatures ranged up to 8 degrees above normal in parts of the Southwest and western Texas.  The Northeast was also on the warm side with temperatures 2 to 4 degrees above normal.  August was a relatively comfortable month for the Mississippi Valley, Kansas and Oklahoma, where temperatures were up to 4 degrees cooler than normal. 


The western U.S. was exceedingly dry in August with much of the area receiving 25 percent or less of normal precipitation, with a few pockets of above-normal precipitation.  The monsoon failed to bring much relief to the Southwest.  The southern Plains and parts of the Midwest were particularly dry also, receiving 50% or less of normal rainfall.  Parts of the Northeast received below-normal rain as well. Two hurricanes also boosted rainfall totals in the eastern U.S. in August.  Hurricane Isaias brought heavy rains to a swath from North Carolina on north to New York and Vermont in early August.  Hurricane Laura moved onshore in Louisiana as a strong category 4 storm on Aug. 27, bringing heavy rainfall, devastating storm surge and winds up to 150 mph.  The storm brought excessive precipitation to Louisiana and from Arkansas east to Virginia, with rains amounting to 150 to 400 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


More than 71 percent of the Northeast was abnormally dry or in drought at the end of July.  Drought eased in eastern New York, while drought intensified with the introduction of several patches of severe drought from Connecticut through Maine in August.  No extreme or worse drought existed in the region.  The Northeast was warm in August with temperatures ranging from 1 to 4 degrees above normal across much of the region.  Rainfall from the remains of two hurricanes also brought significant rain to the southern reaches of the Northeast, with the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland receiving 6 to 12+ inches, or 300 percent of normal rain.  West Virginia, parts of Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania and eastern New York received 150 to 300 percent of normal.  Much of the rest of the region received 70 percent or less of normal.


Some areas of abnormal dryness existed in the Southeast at the start of August, with a small patch of moderate drought in northern Virginia.  Rainfall during August erased nearly all vestiges of drought and abnormal dryness across the entire region.  August temperatures were generally up to 2 degrees above normal.  Precipitation ranged from normal to 200 percent above normal across the Southeast.  Some areas of below-normal rainfall existed in southern Florida, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas, where rainfall was 90 percent or less of average. 


Drought intensified in western Texas during August with a spot of exceptional drought developing in western Texas by the end of the month.  Areas of drought were mainly confined to Oklahoma and Texas, while areas of abnormal dryness existed along the Mississippi River.  Dryness eased in northern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.  Temperatures were highest in Texas, which endured temperatures 2 to 8 degrees above normal in the western half of the state.  Eastern parts of the region were generally normal to 4 degrees cooler than average.  Precipitation was significantly low for Texas, amounting to less than 50 percent of average for most of the state, except for Far West Texas where rainfall was less than 2 percent of normal.  Areas doused by Hurricane Laura received 150 to 400 or more percent of average, such as western Arkansas, receiving up to 15 inches above normal.


Drought intensified and expanded in the Midwest in August, notably in west central Iowa where extreme drought developed.  At the start of the month, abnormal dryness and moderate drought existed in most midwestern states, but eased slightly toward the end of the month.  Temperatures were warmest in the northern two-thirds of the region, largely 1 to 2 degrees above normal.  The southern reaches of the Midwest were much cooler than normal, with temperatures ranging from 1 to 4 degrees cooler than normal.  An area of dryness, centered on Iowa and northern portions of Missouri and Illinois, experienced 50 to 25 percent or less of normal rainfall.  Iowa experienced its third driest August.  Precipitation was significantly above average for Minnesota, northern Michigan and southern parts of the Midwest.

High Plains

Drought developed and expanded in the High Plains in August, with Colorado experiencing the most drought intensification and the introduction of exceptional drought in eastern Colorado.  Kansas experienced some reduction in drought in the southeast corner of the state.  August temperatures were unusually high in Colorado and Wyoming, with Colorado enduring its hottest August on record and Wyoming its third hottest.  Colorado temperatures were 2 to 6 degrees above normal.  Temperatures were slightly above normal from North Dakota to Nebraska, with above-normal temperatures in western Nebraska.  Kansas was largely normal to 4 degrees cooler than average.  Parts of the Midwest were extremely dry in August, receiving 50 percent or far less of normal precipitation, as was the case for Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska.  Nebraska endured its driest August on record, while Wyoming and Colorado had their fifth driest.  The Dakotas, on the other hand, benefited from some areas of above-normal moisture.


Drought expanded and intensified greatly in the Southwest in August. A large area of extreme drought developed in Nevada, Utah and Arizona, while drought expanded to cover much of western Colorado.  Extreme heat gripped much of the region in August, as well, with California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico enduring their hottest August on record, with temperatures 4 to 6 degrees or more above normal.  Precipitation was far below normal with nearly all of the West receiving 50 percent or far less of normal rainfall for the month.  Utah and Arizona had their driest August on record, while New Mexico saw its second driest as the monsoon failed to bring relief.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Part of southern Alaska was abnormally dry at the start of August, and by the end of the month, moderate drought developed on Kodiak Island and an area of abnormal dryness developed in western Alaska.  Temperatures were normal to 5 degrees above normal in Interior Alaska, while the Southeast saw cooler temperatures.  Precipitation was generally low in the west, but varied from normal to 200 percent of normal in the east and southeast.  Hawaii had abnormal dryness and moderate to severe drought on most islands at the start of August, but only Kauai was free of abnormal dryness at the end of August.  Temperatures were about normal to a few degrees above normal, but precipitation was 50 percent of normal or much less across all islands.  Puerto Rico saw drought conditions ease after Hurricane Isaias brought copious rainfall, nearly erasing all traces of abnormal dryness, apart from the southern edge of the island by the end of the month.  August temperatures were mostly a degree or two above normal, while precipitation was 50 to 80 percent of normal for most locations.

Movers and Shakers for August 2020
StatePercent Area
Jul. 28, 2020
Percent Area
Aug. 25, 2020
Biggest increase in drought
New Hampshire47.7692.85Moderate45.09
New Mexico94.1194.68Moderate0.57
New Mexico45.6062.19Severe16.59
New Mexico13.8121.91Extreme8.10
North Dakota11.9216.45Moderate4.53
Rhode Island3.23100.00Moderate96.77
South Dakota13.9630.33Moderate16.37
South Dakota0.640.77Severe0.13
Biggest decrease in drought
New York20.9317.90Moderate3.03
West Virginia4.743.67Moderate1.07

August 2020 impact summary: Western U.S. sees unusually hot and dry August

by Denise Gutzmer

August was an unusually hot and dry one for the western U.S. with the monsoon season failing to bring typical summer rain to the Southwest.  Drought worsened in the Southwest, Texas, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast, while dry conditions eased in parts of the eastern U.S. and Puerto Rico. 

During August, the NDMC added 181 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, testifying to dry conditions across many parts of the U.S.  Colorado had 34 impacts, documenting crop damage, wildfires and water restrictions.  Texas, Massachusetts and Maine followed with 29, 15 and 14 impacts, respectively, describing agricultural issues and water restrictions, among other concerns. 


Colorado crop damage, short water supplies and wildfires

Drought worsened in northern and western Colorado, causing crop damage and depleting water supplies, as several large wildfires burned in the state.  Drought halved Colorado’s winter wheat harvest to 46.5 million bushels, according to the USDA, per The Denver Post, amounting to the second smallest harvest in the past decade.  Dryland crops and forages across the state suffered from the hot, dry summer.

Drought depleted and strained water supplies across the state.  Water restrictions began on the main stretch of the Yampa River in northwest Colorado on Aug. 26, for the second time ever, as reported by Steamboat Pilot & Today.  The call occurred because the lower section of the river near Dinosaur National Monument was low and water users were not receiving their legally protected shares.  In northeast Colorado, an emergency fish salvage began at Jumbo (Julesburg) Reservoir on Aug. 24, per Julesburg Advocate.  Drought led to high irrigation demand, which was expected to draw the reservoir low enough to kill all of the fish. 

Large wildfires also torched significant swathes of the Colorado landscape in August, according to The Denver Post.  The Pine Gulch Fire near Grand Junction was the largest fire in the state’s history, burning 139,007 acres, or about 217 square miles, by the end of the month.  The Grizzly Creek Fire near Glenwood Springs charred 32,464 acres, or about 51 square miles, by the end of the month.  In response to the fires and dry conditions, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced a 30-day ban on open fires, fireworks and other open sources of ignition on Aug. 18, as reported by Associated Press.


Texas crops, forage, livestock affected by drought

Drought intensified across much of Texas in August, hurting dryland crops and drying rangeland and pastures.  In western parts of the state, livestock and wildlife continued to receive supplemental feed as conditions were too dry to support the animals, per AgriLife Today.  In some areas, irrigation could not meet crop demand, such as in West Central Texas.  With dry conditions, hay supplies were dwindling and prices were rising, per AgriLife Today.  Livestock producers in the western part of the state were culling cattle, due to poor pastures and rangeland.

Wildfires became a greater concern, prompting numerous counties in the Lone Star State to adopt burn bans.  As of Aug. 18, at least 134 counties of the state’s 254 counties had burn bans in place, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


Massachusetts drought declaration, smaller crops

Persistent drought and heat in Massachusetts resulted in a drought declaration.  The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced on Aug. 13 a Level 2 drought for all regions of the state, as reported by MassLive.  The public was urged to conserve water and to be aware of the fire danger. 

Farmers had to irrigate at significant cost to sustain crops and some could not afford to water everything and lost some crops as a result.  Farmers in eastern Massachusetts reported summer squash production down as drought hindered growth, per Boston 25 News.  Other crops that need lots of water, like cucumbers and zucchini, also did not do well. Peaches and apples were also smaller than usual, as reported by WCVB-TV ABC 5 Boston.  Animals were munching on crops that they normally wouldn’t, in search of food and moisture.  Deer, for instance, were eating the silks on the corn.


Reduced hay production in Maine, uptick in wildfires

Drought gripped much of Maine and posed numerous problems for crops and water supplies and sparked fires.  Hot, dry weather in Maine limited hay production as the crop grows better in cool, moist conditions, per The Piscataquis Observer.  A sustainable dairy and forage systems expert with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension expected a hay production shortfall of more than 30 percent.  The first cutting of hay was very good and benefited from a May snowstorm, but subsequent hot, dry weather left the second and third cuttings lacking.  In northern Maine, many farmers in Aroostook County no longer had irrigation capability as ponds went dry and river flows were limited, according to The County

Fire activity in The Pine Tree State was elevated in 2020.  There were 850 wildfires in Maine through Aug. 15, according to Maine Forest Rangers, as reported by WMTW-TV ABC 8.  The number of wildfires was up at least 150 percent from 2019.  The public was warned to be very careful with fires outdoors. 


State of emergency in Oregon, short water supplies

As wildfires burned, prompting evacuations and consuming homes in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to the “imminent threat of wildfire” in Oregon, as reported by KEZI News. Drought conditions, extreme fire danger and heat were anticipated to cause a worse-than-usual fire season.

Water supplies were low in central Oregon as the summer came to an end, thwarting farmers and threatening fish.  Two of the eight irrigation districts in the Deschutes River basin ended water deliveries for the season, and other districts may follow suit, as reported by KTVZ-TV News Channel 21

Flows were so low on the East Fork of Evans Creek in southwest Oregon that steelhead and threatened coho salmon were trapped in small, isolated pools and were not expected to survive the week, per Medford Mail Tribune.  Residents along Rogue River Basin streams were asked to report areas where fish were stranded so they could be rescued.


Iowa corn, pasture stressed; water supplies dwindling

Drought in Iowa continued to harm crops and affect water supplies.  Drought-stricken crops were blown down by the Aug. 10 derecho, adding insult to injury for many Iowa farmers.  Aside from the wind damage, the corn crop in central and west central Iowa was maturing more quickly than normal, per Brownfield Ag News.  Pastures were stressed, and forage productivity was down.  Producers in some areas had supplemented with hay or grain starting in July.  The second hay cutting was light.

The hot, dry summer took a toll on water supplies, with several communities, including Des Moines, urging water conservation.  Toward the end of the month, water in the Des Moines River contained high levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae, making the river unsuitable for use as a drinking water source, as reported by WHBF - OurQuadCities.com.  Flow in the Raccoon River was very low, and demand was high.  To raise water levels near the water intake for Des Moines, Water Works employees raised flash boards in the Raccoon River, a mitigation strategy that had not been used in seven years, per Des Moines Register.  The city of Des Moines also accessed its emergency reserve, the Dale Maffitt Reservoir.


For more drought impact information, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter

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