Drought and Climate for September 2020: Drought conditions intensify in West, Plains, Northeast

by Crystal Stiles


Continued dryness in September led to the intensification of drought conditions across the West, the northern and central Plains, and the Northeast. Several areas of exceptional drought (D4) developed in the West. With the exception of central portions of the Big Island, drought conditions worsened over Hawaii as well. However, several tropical systems and non-tropical, multi-day rain events led to improvements in conditions. The greatest drought relief came to central and eastern Texas, as well as Iowa and northern Illinois, where 2- to 3-class improvements occurred. Conditions in Alaska improved as well. Overall, over the course of the month, drought conditions degraded slightly nationwide, with nearly 56% of the U.S. and Puerto Rico experiencing drought or abnormal dryness (D0-D4).

Drought Outlook

The Climate Prediction Center’s monthly drought outlook for October indicates that drought will persist across much of the West and pockets of the Midwest, with further development likely in northern portions of the Intermountain West and throughout the Plains. Drought is also expected to persist across the Hawaiian Islands. Drought may improve or be removed in areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and a couple of small areas of Alaska.



The western third of the U.S. experienced above-normal temperatures in September, which further exacerbated drought conditions. Temperature departures generally ranged from 2 to 6°F above normal. California and Oregon had their warmest September on record, with Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and Idaho ranking in the top 10 warmest. Temperatures in the middle third of the U.S. were generally below normal, with areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas experiencing departures of at least 4°F below normal. Temperatures were more varied throughout the eastern third of the U.S., but most areas were within 2°F of normal.


September was very dry for much of the West, the northern and central Plains, and the Northeast. Very little precipitation fell across California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, where precipitation was less than 5% of normal. Maine had its driest September on record, while Arizona, California, New Hampshire, Utah, Nevada, and North Dakota made it into the top 10 driest. Meanwhile, a combination of tropical and non-tropical systems dropped heavy rains across portions of the southern Plains and the Southeast. The wettest areas included central Texas, the Florida Panhandle, and southern Alabama, where precipitation exceeded 300% of normal. Georgia had its 9th wettest September on record. Pockets of wetness could also be found in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

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 conditions continued to deteriorate across the Northeast in September. Temperature departures varied across the region, with some areas above normal and other areas below normal. But September was rather dry for almost the entire region, with much of New England receiving less than 50% of normal precipitation. Extreme drought (D3) was introduced to areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and almost the entire state of Rhode Island was placed in D3 as well. Severe drought (D2) expanded across a large portion of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, while also extending into eastern Vermont. An area of D2 was introduced to central Pennsylvania. Moderate drought (D1) expanded across parts of New York and Pennsylvania. By the end of the month, approximately 45% of the Northeast was experiencing drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought has not been this extensive in the Northeast since 2016.



It was another relatively wet month for the Southeast, thanks in part to Hurricane Sally and the remnants of Tropical Storm Beta. Precipitation exceeded 300% of normal in portions of the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama. Several small areas of abnormal dryness (D0) were eradicated by heavy rains in September. The only D0 remaining in the region by the end of the month was in a few small pockets in western Alabama, eastern Georgia, and coastal South Carolina, which were largely missed by September rains.


Heavy rains vastly improved drought conditions across central and eastern Texas and southwestern Oklahoma in September, with some areas receiving as much as 300% of normal precipitation from multiple rain events. The landfall of Tropical Storm Beta along the middle Texas coast also contributed to improvements in conditions. Some areas of Texas saw as much as a three-class improvement on the U.S. Drought Monitor, starting the month in severe drought and ending the month free of drought and abnormal dryness. However, drought conditions deteriorated in western Texas and areas of northern Oklahoma, which were quite dry in September. By the end of the month, there were three pockets of exceptional drought (D4), all in western Texas. While the pocket of D4 farthest south was present at the beginning of the month, the other two pockets were introduced at the end of September where year-to-date precipitation was well below normal and crops were suffering. Meanwhile, recent dryness popped up in eastern Mississippi, where D0 conditions were introduced. Moderate drought and abnormal dryness spread into northwestern Arkansas from southwestern Missouri as well.


Both improvements and degradations in drought conditions occurred in September in the Midwest. Drought-stricken areas of Iowa and northern Illinois received some relief due to a couple of multi-day rain events early in the month. Extreme drought was removed in western Iowa, and by the end of the month, no D3 conditions were present in the region. Moderate drought was removed in eastern Iowa and most of northern Illinois. However, farther south, it was dry in September. Abnormal dryness spread from southern Missouri northeastward across southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and into parts of southern Ohio. Moderate drought was introduced to west-central Indiana, extending westward into eastern Illinois. Both moderate and severe drought expanded in southwestern Missouri as well.


High Plains

September was very dry in the High Plains, with most of the region receiving less than 70% of normal precipitation. Unfortunately, this resulted in the further expansion and intensification of drought and dryness across the region. As conditions in the Nebraska Panhandle continued to deteriorate, extreme drought was introduced and connected to the area of D3 in eastern Wyoming. A new area of D3 was warranted in northeastern Nebraska, and moderate drought spread across the central part of the state. Conditions in North Dakota worsened as well, as severe drought was introduced to the northwestern part of the state and moderate drought spread across central portions. Much of the eastern High Plains region that had previously not had dryness issues was filled in with D0 by the end of the month, resulting in about 93% of the region experiencing drought or abnormal dryness. Meanwhile, there were some improvements in conditions, most notably in the Omaha Metro and surrounding areas of eastern Nebraska where D3 improved to D2, as well as in southeastern Kansas where moderate drought was removed, thanks to beneficial precipitation.



The West received very little relief during September, as drought continues to grip much of the region. September was warm, with temperature departures of at least 2°F above normal for most areas, and very little precipitation fell, with large areas of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona receiving no more than 5% of normal precipitation. Wildfires continued to rage across the West due to warm, dry, and windy conditions. Several new areas of exceptional drought were introduced, which included western Colorado, southeastern New Mexico, western New Mexico, southern Arizona, and an area encompassing eastern Nevada into western and central Utah. The three large areas of extreme drought in these states were connected, and other areas of D3 in Wyoming, Oregon, and California expanded as well. One of the only areas lucky enough to receive beneficial precipitation in September was the Pacific Northwest, but improvements in conditions were quite small and localized.


Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Heavy precipitation fell in the right areas to lead to improvements in conditions in Alaska. Moderate drought was removed from Kodiak Island, and abnormal dryness was removed from portions of central and southern Alaska. A small area of moderate drought in northwestern Alaska remained. A dry September across Hawaii led to further degradations in drought conditions across almost all of the islands. Extreme drought developed on portions of Molokai and Maui. Severe drought was introduced to Niihau, Oahu, and the Big Island and spread further across Molokai, Lanai, and Maui. Abnormal dryness and a sliver of moderate drought were introduced to Kauai. Only the Big Island experienced relief from drought in September, as moderate drought was removed from the central part of the island thanks to locally heavy rain. In Puerto Rico, continued dryness prompted the northward expansion of abnormally dry conditions in the southeastern portion of the island.


Movers and Shakers for September 2020
StatePercent Area
Sep. 1, 2020
Percent Area
Sep. 29, 2020
Biggest increase in drought
New Hampshire92.85100.00Moderate7.15
New Hampshire28.3195.06Severe66.75
New Mexico94.6899.92Moderate5.24
New Mexico65.2973.65Severe8.36
New Mexico29.3339.88Extreme10.55
New York6.8333.81Moderate26.98
North Dakota17.8951.84Moderate33.95
North Dakota1.2013.94Severe12.74
Rhode Island98.4699.02Severe0.56
South Dakota27.5130.61Moderate3.10
South Dakota2.776.76Severe3.99
Biggest decrease in drought

September 2020 impact summary: September drought intensifying across much of U.S., hurting crop yields, diminishing water supplies

by Denise Gutzmer

Drought worsened across many parts of the U.S. in September, and the NDMC added 166 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter.  Although rains fell in Texas, improving the drought status, lingering impacts still allowed the state to accrue the most impacts, documenting ongoing agricultural concerns as conditions improved. Texas led the U.S. with 23 impacts, while New Hampshire, Colorado and Massachusetts followed with 21, 18 and 16 impacts, respectively, as drought worsened in those states. 


Texas drought eased, but agricultural impacts lingered

Much of Texas was in some level of abnormal dryness or drought at the start of September, but bountiful rain throughout the month left drought confined to roughly the western third of the state by the end of the month.  At the beginning of September, stressed pecan trees in central Texas were dropping nuts after a dry summer; pastures were dry in west central Texas, leading producers to sell cattle; water quality was poor in east Texas ponds; oat growers in south Texas were awaiting rain before planting; and in far west Texas, reservoirs were not being replenished, causing concern about the next growing season, according to AgriLife Today.  Toward the end of the month, supplemental feeding was decreasing in some areas that received rain, while in the driest areas, like far west Texas, pastures remained very dry with no forages, as reported by AgriLife Today


New Hampshire crop losses, depleted water supplies, burn ban

The summer drought presented immense challenges to New Hampshire agriculture and water supplies, particularly in the southern reaches of the state.  Some crops could not be saved this year, despite irrigation, because drought was too intense, reported a farmer in Hooksett in southern New Hampshire, per WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester.  Hay production suffered, as well, being down by 50 percent, leaving one livestock producer wondering where he will find hay to sustain his herd through the winter, as reported by Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Water supplies were dwindling and wells were running dry, prompting New Hampshire officials to warn people with wells to carefully watch their water use as more than 100 people reported problems daily with their wells, as reported by WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester.  Well drillers were busy and have backlogs on drilling new wells of 6 to 12 weeks or more.  As of Sept. 21, more than 150 local water systems had mandatory limits on water use, mainly in Rockingham County, per New Hampshire Public Radio.  Only Coos County in the north had no mandatory restrictions.

Some southern New Hampshire fire departments had trouble with water access for firefighting, according to WMUR-TV ABC 9 Manchester.  New Boston firefighters had to get water from a nearby town for firefighting as New Boston’s 32 cisterns were not refilling quickly enough.  Rivers were too low to be of any use, and some fire departments had to purchase water from swimming pool companies to refill tanks.  In addition, the drought meant that fires were burning deeper into the ground, making them more difficult to extinguish.

As drought increased the fire danger in the Granite State, Gov. Chris Sununu banned burning debris on public property, most campfires and smoking near public woodlands on Sept. 25, as reported by New Hampshire Public Radio.  Violators may face fines of up to $1,000 and have to bear the cost of fighting any fires they may spark. 


Colorado ag challenges, statewide burn ban, request for emergency relief

Extreme drought expanded to cover most of western Colorado in September, affecting agriculture and wildlife and increasing the fire danger as several large wildfires burned during the month.  In northeast and east central Colorado, livestock producers continued to offer supplemental feed to their herds because there was little grazing, as reported in The Prowers Journal.  Dryland crop failures increased and producers sold calves early and pulled stock off of summer grazing at the start of the month.

Gov. Jared Polis extended the Colorado fire ban through the month of September as drought intensified and fires continued to burn, per The Lamar Ledger.  Some of those fires included the Pine Gulch fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado history, which charred more than 139,000 acres north of Grand Junction after it was sparked by a lightning strike on July 31, according to InciWeb.  The Cameron Peak Fire in Larimer County was another massive fire that blackened more than 127,000 acres, as of Oct. 6, per InciWeb

As drought worsened in Colorado, with an area of exceptional drought appearing in the western part of the state, Gov. Polis expanded the second phase of the state’s drought response plan to all counties, as reported by Colorado Public Radio.  A drought task force will assess initial damages and drought impacts and make recommendations on mitigation measures.  Polis also requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide emergency relief for Colorado producers because they endured financial losses.


Massachusetts drought declaration, wildfires

Massachusetts remained in a level 2 drought after the declaration was initially made in August after months of below-average rainfall and intense heat.  The declaration was reaffirmed in September, per WBUR-FM Boston Public Radio.  Residents across the state were urged to continue conserving water and to be aware of the fire danger. 

Drought also led to an uptick in wildfires.  Massachusetts has had more than 1,000 wildfires in 2020, compared to 2019 when there were just a little over 250, or 2018 when there were just over 1,000 fires for the entire year, according to WesternMassNews.com.  Two wildfires in Massachusetts burned for about a month before being extinguished, amid an unusual fire season for the state, per WBUR-FM Boston Public Radio.  There is concern that fall leaves will add to the fuel for fires.

As extreme drought was introduced to and expanded in southeast Massachusetts, agricultural concerns grew.  Fruits such as peaches and apples were smaller in eastern Massachusetts, as reported by The Harvard Press.  Some cranberry growers in southeastern Massachusetts did not have adequate water supplies to protect their cranberries from frost or even to be able to harvest, according to Sippican Week. Bogs must be flooded so the berries release from the vines, but some growers did not have the water.


Dry wells in Maine, crop losses, fewer insects and related diseases

The hot, dry summer in Maine took a toll on water supplies.  The Maine Emergency Management Agency offered a Dry Well Survey in August and received reports of dry wells in Somerset, Waldo, Sagadahoc, Penobscot, Kennebec, Franklin, Knox and Washington counties, per Portland Press Herald. The survey covered dug and drilled wells used for residential, irrigation, livestock and other purposes.  Toward the end of September, survey respondents reported 92 dry wells across the state, with only Piscataquis County having no dry wells, as reported by WCSH-TV NBC 6 Portland

Various crops were affected by the hot, dry summer in Maine.  The wild blueberry crop was likely halved from the five-year average of 84 million pounds, due to a late spring frost, a summer-long drought and coronavirus issues, according to the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, per Central Maine.  Pasture growth stopped, leaving some livestock producers to purchase hay for the animals, as reported by The Ellsworth American.  Newly planted Christmas trees near Cape Elizabeth also succumbed to the droughty summer, per WCSH-TV NBC 6 Portland

One perk that Mainers experienced was that there were fewer insects, as reported by WMTW Portland.  The preliminary case count of Lyme disease through Sept. 7 was 626, far below the 2,167 cases reported in 2019.  There were similarly fewer cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis, also tick-borne diseases.  Fewer mosquitoes were caught in traps over the summer.  Other parts of New England, such as Vermont and New Hampshire, were also finding fewer ticks and mosquitoes. In Vermont, insect counts were down about 42 percent, compared to 2019.  No cases of West Nile virus or eastern equine encephalitis were reported in Maine or Vermont through Sept. 14.


Drought designations in Connecticut, water restrictions, crop losses

As drought continued to worsen in Connecticut, the state Interagency Drought Work Group met and designated all counties, except Fairfield, as being in Stage 2 drought, according to Hartford Courant, with state officials urging residents to conserve water.    

Water supplies in Connecticut, as in many parts of the Northeast, were becoming depleted at the end of the summer, and numerous communities were asking citizens to conserve.  Connecticut Water asked customers in Clinton, Guilford, Madison, Old Saybrook and Westbrook to curb water use by 10%, due to drought, according to NBC Connecticut.  The water provider issued a drought advisory for its Connecticut shoreline customers in response to dry weather and increased demand.  Some domestic wells were low or running dry, and well drillers were struggling to keep up with demand for service, per WFSB-TV CBS Channel 3.

Crops were affected by the dry summer, as well.  Soybeans did not sprout in Tolland County for lack of moisture and had to be replanted, per NBC Connecticut.  Second and third cuttings of hay were less than half the usual yield.  Ninety percent of pastures were in very poor to poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per Harford Courant.  Dairy farmers were seeking to purchase corn feed for their cattle as yields were down, due to the lack of rain.


Please visit the Drought Impact Reporter for more details.

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.