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National Drought Mitigation Center

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Drought notches U.S. Drought Monitor record for duration across Lower 48 states

January 20, 2022

This chart shows the fluctuating percent of the area of the Lower 48 states in each category of drought, for three different time periods: from 2011 through the present, the current drought from fall 2020 to present, and the drought of 2012-13.

Drought’s footprint expanded slightly this week, still covering about 46% of the entire U.S., and 55% of the Lower 48, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This week’s map breaks the previous record of 68 consecutive weeks of 40% of the US in drought on the USDM, a streak that ran from June 19, 2012, to Oct. 1, 2013. The current streak began on Sept. 29, 2020. U.S. Drought Monitor data goes back to 2000, so it does not reflect drought from the 1930s or 1950s. 
“What we are seeing is that more and more, drought is not just a ‘summer’ event in the Midwest and Plains or a ‘winter’ event in the West. It is coming at us in all shapes and sizes in terms of intensity, duration and rate of onset, which is why the USDM is so very important as a monitoring tool,” said Brian Fuchs, author of this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map, and Monitoring lead at the National Drought Mitigation Center. “The central Plains and Midwest drought in 2012 followed a very wet 2011, the Southeast had flash drought in fall of 2019, and the Southwest monsoon is now more off and on, not as dependable as it used to be. And the 2011-16 southern plains drought was another example of an isolated and long-term event that had many driving factors.”

The lingering drought has been particularly hard on western states, with some calling it part of a western mega-drought, Fuchs said. 

Effects of the drought have included low snowpack in California in spring 2021, which led to low runoff and low water levels in reservoirs; intensified heat and wildfires in the summer and fall of 2021; western trout streams at risk; a water shortage declaration for the Lower Colorado River; reduced production of wheat, hay, and other crops; and increased sales of livestock, according to Denise Gutzmer, who tracks drought impacts for the NDMC. 

The NDMC, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is the academic partner in US Drought Monitor production, and hosts the USDM web site. The website provides a variety of maps, timelines, statistics and downloads for many different geographic areas. The USDM is produced by a partnership including the NDMC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The NDMC, founded in 1995, works to help decision-makers from farmers and ranchers to national leaders prepare for drought, by implementing drought monitoring, and by taking steps ahead of time to anticipate drought vulnerability and reduce impacts.

NDMC: drought.unl.edu
U.S. Drought Monitor: droughtmonitor.unl.edu
Drought impact summaries: drought.unl.edu/Publications/MonthlySummary.aspx

-- NDMC Communications