Drought and Climate for September 2018: Drought improves over Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana; drought persists in West

by Claire Schirle


During September, areas of drought intensified and spread in the West, but improved and shrank in the South and Midwest, leading to modest changes in drought coverage on a national scale.  National coverage of moderate drought decreased 4.62 percent to 24.58 percent.  Severe drought coverage decreased 1.63 percent to 14.56 percent.  Extreme and exceptional drought coverages remained nearly constant around 6 percent and 1 percent, respectively.  Despite the small decreases in areal drought coverage, the number of people affected by drought decreased substantially, from 73.5 million to 55.5 million.

Drought Outlook

With ample rain in the forecast, drought is likely to improve or be removed from extreme southeastern California, southeastern Nevada, Arizona, Utah, far southern Wyoming, western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.  Drought is expected to persist in the remainder of the West and in northern North Dakota.  Drought is expected to persist and expand in and around the small area of drought in Georgia and South Carolina because of a forecast of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures.  Drought improvement and removal is likely for the areas of drought in the South, Great Plains, Midwest and New England.


Temperatures compared to normal varied drastically across the country.  Temperatures were generally 0 to 4 degrees below normal in a swath extending from northern California to northern Minnesota as well as in western Texas.  Temperatures in a small portion of northeastern Montana were even cooler, with temperatures 6 to 8 degrees below normal.  The remainder of the United States was warm, with temperatures 0 to 6 degrees above normal in many places.  However, the eastern third of the United States was even warmer, with temperatures 6-10 degrees above normal in some spots because of a persistent ridge. 


Generally speaking, the western third of the country was dry during September while the eastern two-thirds of the country was near normal or wet.  In the West, precipitation amounts were primarily 0 to 50 percent of normal, with the exception of southeastern Arizona, far southeastern Nevada, northwestern Washington, northeastern Montana and parts of New Mexico where precipitation ranged from 100 to 200 percent of normal.  Much of the eastern two-thirds of the country saw precipitation amounts between 100 and 400 percent of normal.  The driest conditions in the east occurred in pockets located in the Dakotas, Great Plains, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and far northern New England where precipitation ranged from 25 to 75 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


Most of the Northeast saw more rainfall than normal, with precipitation amounts ranging between 150 and 300 percent of normal for much of the region.  West Virginia actually saw its wettest September on record.  The exceptions to the wetter than normal conditions were in the northern portions of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, where precipitation totals were as low as 25 to 50 percent of normal.  Aside from far northern Maine, the entire region saw temperatures above normal.  Temperature departures compared to normal followed a southwest-to-northeast gradient.  The largest temperature departures (6 to 10 degrees above normal) were found in West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, all of which had their warmest September on record.  Temperatures closer to normal were found in northern New England (0 to 4 degrees above normal).  Moderate drought coverage decreased 2.57 percent to 4.63 percent while severe drought was introduced into part of New York and Vermont, covering 0.83 percent of the region. 


Precipitation surpluses were common in Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama.  Precipitation totals in relatively large areas of the eastern Carolinas were more than 300 percent of normal because of the landfall of Hurricane Florence during the middle of the month.  Some locations set monthly precipitation records with over 50 inches of rain from Florence.  The Florida Panhandle and coastal Alabama also saw high precipitation totals for the month thanks to Tropical Storm Gordon.  Large portions of Georgia, Florida, and southern South Carolina were dry, with precipitation totals between 5 and 70 percent of normal.  The entire region was warmer than normal, with temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degrees above normal throughout the majority of the region.  Because of the lack of precipitation and warmer than normal temperatures, moderate drought was introduced in Georgia and South Carolina, covering 2.46 percent of the region.


Precipitation was ample throughout the majority of the region.  Precipitation amounts were generally 125 to 400 percent of normal throughout the region, with some localized spots in Texas picking up more than 800 percent of normal rainfall because of stalled cold fronts, contributing to Texas’s wettest September on record.  In contrast, far western Texas, the northern Texas panhandle, northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas were drier than normal, with precipitation amounts between 5 and 75 percent of normal.  Eastern Tennessee and an isolated portion of central Mississippi were the warmest areas of the region where temperatures were 6 to 8 degrees above normal.  Western Texas saw the coolest temperatures compared to normal (0 and 4 degrees below normal).  The rest of the region saw temperatures between 0 and 6 degrees above normal.  The percent of the region in drought was dramatically reduced during September because of drenching rains.  The areal coverage of moderate drought decreased 27.52 percent to only 10.81 percent and the coverage of severe drought was reduced 14.95 percent to 3.94 percent.  Only 0.52 percent of the region was left in extreme drought at the end of the month and a small pocket of exceptional drought was eliminated with a 4-class improvement.


Precipitation deficits were found in a relatively narrow swath from Missouri through central Illinois and into northern Indiana and Michigan.  Within this area, precipitation amounts were a mere 5 to 70 percent of normal.  Precipitation deficits were also found in central Minnesota, and small portions of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In contrast, precipitation amounts ranging from 130 percent to more than 300 percent of normal were found throughout the majority of the remaining portions of the region.  The largest precipitation surpluses were found in Iowa, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, southern Ohio and Kentucky.  The majority of the region saw temperatures between 2 and 6 degrees above normal.  However, cool conditions were found in northern Minnesota (0 to 4 degrees below normal) while even warmer conditions were found in Ohio and Kentucky (6 to 8 degrees above normal).  Coverage of moderate drought was reduced by half, leaving 8.42 percent of the region in drought.  Severe, extreme and exceptional drought were all nearly eliminated, with only 1.71 percent, 0.37 percent and 0.01 percent of the region remaining in each category, respectively.

High Plains

Much of Wyoming and Colorado as well as western Nebraska, northwestern Kansas, far eastern Kansas and pockets of the Dakotas were dry during September, with precipitation amounts ranging from 0 to 70 percent of normal.  Precipitation amounts of 70 percent of normal to more than 300 percent of normal were found throughout the rest of the region.  Temperature departures compared to normal varied throughout the region. North Dakota saw the coolest weather, with temperatures between 0 and 6 degrees below normal.  South Dakota and Kansas both saw temperatures between 2 degrees below normal and 4 degrees above normal while temperatures in Nebraska were between 0 and 6 degrees above normal.  Colorado was the warmest state with temperatures primarily between 2 and 8 degrees above normal.  Wyoming saw the most in state variability with temperatures anywhere from 4 degrees below normal in the northern part of the state to 8 degrees above normal in the southern part of the state.  The extent of drought was relatively constant through the month, although drought intensity and coverage was increased slightly in the Dakotas and decreased slightly in Kansas.  The exceptional drought expanded in southwestern Colorado to cover 3.38 percent of the region.


Nearly the entire region saw precipitation totals a mere 0 to 50 percent of normal, with the exception of northwestern Washington, northeastern Montana, southeastern Arizona, much of New Mexico, and very small pockets in California, Oregon and Nevada.  Much of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana as well as parts of northern California and northwestern Nevada saw temperatures 0 to 4 degrees below normal, with several small areas seeing temperatures 6 to 8 degrees below normal.  Southern California, southern Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico saw temperatures primarily 2 to 6 degrees above normal, with some areas as warm as 10 degrees above normal.  Utah and Arizona saw their warmest September on record.  All drought categories increased slightly in coverage within the region.  Moderate drought coverage increased 1 percent to 59.29 percent.  Severe drought coverage increased from 36.50 percent to 38.88 percent.  Extreme drought coverage increased 1.81 percent to 17.58 percent and exceptional drought coverage increased 0.78 percent to 4.36 percent.

Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico

Drought in southeastern Alaska intensified from moderate drought to severe drought during September.  However, the drought is expected to improve or be removed during October.  Areas of drought in Hawaii were removed during September and the state is expected to remain drought free through October.  Puerto Rico was drought free in September and is expected to stay so in October.

Movers and Shakers for September 2018
StatePercent Area
Aug. 28, 2018
Percent Area
Sep. 25, 2018
Biggest increase in drought
New Mexico14.5415.53Exceptional0.99
North Dakota26.2244.37Moderate18.15
North Dakota2.6416.78Severe14.14
South Dakota8.4216.50Moderate8.08
South Dakota1.773.56Severe1.79
Biggest decrease in drought
New Mexico94.5793.27Moderate1.30
New Mexico64.2259.56Severe4.66
New Mexico36.0431.84Extreme4.20
New York15.2811.00Moderate4.28

September 2018 impact summary: Crops, rivers affected in southwestern United States

by Denise Gutzmer

During September, the NDMC added 134 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter, with 30 of those for Texas, mainly about agriculture, plants and wildlife.  Drought persisted and worsened in Colorado, where 18 user submissions described impacts related to water, plants and wildlife.  There were 10 impacts for New Mexico concerning agriculture, water, and responses to drought.


Hay prices climbing

Nationally, for every month of 2018 so far, hay prices have been at least 10 percent higher than 2017 levels.  In some states, the increases were much higher.  In Kansas, prices were up 43.7 percent; in Nebraska, up 26.6 percent; and in South Dakota, up 16.5 percent.  Missouri hay prices have risen more than 50 percent since the start of 2018. 

Hay prices soar after drought, by Scott Brown, Missouri Ruralist (St. Charles, Illinois), Sept. 6, 2018


Texas drought hurting cotton, pumpkins

Drought was extremely hard on Texas cotton.  In the Abilene area, of the more than 100,000 acres of cotton planted in the Big Country region, just 40,000 acres survived, meaning that about 60,000 acres were lost to the dry weather.  The previous winter and spring were dry, leaving too little moisture to produce a crop.  The loss there and elsewhere in Texas increased national figures for cotton abandonment. 

Nationally, 14 million acres were planted in cotton, but the estimate for harvested cotton acreage was 10.55 million acres.  The divergence between planted and harvested acres is greater than it has been in a few years and was attributed to cotton abandonment in Texas due to drought, according to Warren Preston, deputy chief economist for USDA.

Fewer pumpkins were planted in the central and southern Texas Panhandle as drought earlier in the year did not bode well for the crop.  A Donley County grower chose to plant only 75 acres, whereas he would normally plant 120 to 150 acres of pumpkins, because he feared insufficient water to produce a good crop.  With fewer pumpkins grown this year, there was a shortage of pumpkins, which might translate to higher prices for the consumer. 

Dry weather affecting cotton harvest in the Big Country, by Jillian Grace, KTXS-TV Abilene (Texas), Sept. 17, 2018

Drought, rains hurt Texas cotton, by Jessica Domel, Texas Farm Bureau, Sept. 14, 2018

Drought conditions impact local pumpkin crop, by Ryan Coulter, ConnectAmarillo KVII (Texas), Sept. 10, 2018


Colorado experiencing poor water year

Colorado’s water year, ending September 30, had the third-lowest unregulated flow into Lake Powell, at 43 percent of average for 4.62 million acre-feet, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of Reclamation.  The average annual inflow is 10.8 million acre-feet.  Thirty percent of U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges in the Intermountain West were at record-low seven-day average stream flows during the last two weeks of September as drought took quite a toll on water supplies. 

Southwest Colorado was on track to have its second driest water year, behind 2002, which was the driest year in recorded history.  Drought began in the fall of 2017 and has persisted since with poor snowpack during the winter, low rainfall during the spring and summer, and little in the way of monsoonal precipitation during the 2018 summer. 

The lack of rain was apparent in rain gauges and reflected in river flows.  The Animas River fell to a record low the last week of September, with flows slipping below 100 cubic feet per second on September 26.  A weather station at Mesa Verde recorded the least precipitation in 120 years.  A gauge on the San Juan River near Bluff, Utah, showed its lowest flow in 92 years. 

The dry water year also meant a dry landscape and greater fire danger in Colorado.  The unusually warm, dry days of September intensified wildfires burning in Colorado.  Autumn leaves fell earlier than usual from drought-stricken trees, providing additional fuel for fires.  The drought also prompted a number of counties in western Colorado to return to stage one fire restrictions to protect forests from wildfires. 

Colorado’s 2018 water year closes as one of driest on record, by Heather Sackett, The Aspen Times (Colorado), Oct. 2, 2018

Animas River appears to have hit all-time low, by Jonathan Romeo, The Cortez Journal (Colorado), Oct. 3, 2018

Colorado wildfire update: Heat, fall leaves and winds increase fire activity, by Jackson Barnett, The Denver Post (Colorado), Sept. 19, 2018

New fire restrictions across Western Colorado, by Stephanie Bennett, KJCT-TV ABC 8 (Grand Junction, Colorado), Sept. 21, 2018


New Mexico’s low rivers causing fish kills, problems for farmers

To Colorado’s south, waterways in New Mexico were little better.  Toward the end of September, New Mexico’s rivers were flowing at a fraction of their usual rate after the previous winter’s poor snowpack.  In Albuquerque, the Rio Grande River was flowing at 133 cubic feet per second, compared to the average of 410 cfs.  Natural flows of the Rio Grande ceased in July, but the river was still flowing because of supplemental water from the San Juan-Chama Project water from the Colorado River Basin. 

Elsewhere in New Mexico, the Elephant Butte Reservoir in the south central part of the state was at 3 percent of capacity.  The Animas River at Farmington in northwestern New Mexico was at a record low of just above 0 cfs.

Numerous dead brown trout were observed in the Pecos River between Cowles and Pecos east of Santa Fe.  The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish was looking into the decline in brown and rainbow trout, which officials thought was related to the current drought.  The flow of the Pecos River was about half of normal.  Statewide, Game and Fish typically investigates 8-10 fish kills annually, but this year has already reviewed nearly 20 kills.

While monsoon rains were helpful, it was too little, too late for many farmers.  In the Santa Fe area, some farmers got smaller crops after drought and spotty monsoon rains did not reach all farms. A farmer from the Nambé area planted just half of his land, given the drought, and his yield was still down about 40 percent.  Another farmer who gets water from the Rio Grande River said the river was so low that he had to temporarily close a head gate on the river to divert its flow into his ditch.

Drought lingers across New Mexico, by Maddy Hayden, Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), Sept. 28, 2018

State investigates trout die-off in Pecos River, by Olivia Harlow, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 25, 2018

Monsoon aids farmers, but for many, damage is done, by Sarah Halasz Graham, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 3, 2018


Agricultural challenges, fewer cases of Lyme disease in Maine

Maine was gripped by abnormal dryness over portions of the state during the summer and suffered some agricultural challenges as a result.  In northern Maine, drought provided ideal conditions in Aroostook County for the spread of an invasive plant species called bedstraw. The dry weather slowed the growth of Timothy and other grasses, allowing weeds a head start. Since weeds often have deep taproots, they can reach moisture that hay cannot, and ultimately crowd out the hay. One farmer reported that bedstraw had taken over 20 acres, depriving him of hay.

After another summer of drought and a freeze, blueberry production was halved in Rockport in Knox County.  Across the state, drought, freezes, diseases, foreign competition and a long-term price drop were challenging the wild blueberry industry.

On the bright side, fewer cases of Lyme disease were reported in Maine this summer, with experts theorizing that the hot, dry weather was the reason, prompting ticks to enter a dormant state.  Deer tick surveys have found fewer ticks in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  There were fewer Lyme disease cases in 2018, compared with 2017, and far fewer than the 5-year average. 

Invasive plant takes over County hay fields, by WAGM-TV CBS 8 (Presque Isle, Maine), Sept. 3, 2018

With industry in decline, wild blueberries sing the blues, by Patrick Whittle, The Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2018

Hot and dry weather apparently hampering ticks that carry Lyme disease, by Joe Lawlor, Portland Press Herald (Maine), Sept. 4, 2018


For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter

The images above summarize information from the Drought Impact Reporter.