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