National Drought Mitigation Center


CMOR helps officials respond to drought in Missouri

January 19, 2023

A CMOR observer in Bollinger County, Mo., described the struggles facing their operation given the lack of plant growth and livestock food. In October, drought conditions deteriorated rapidly in southern Missouri after a month of improvement. Photo submitted via CMOR.

2022 was one for the record books. All 50 states recorded drought at some point during the year, and the Lower 48 set a record for the extent of drought and abnormal dryness. Missouri wasn’t spared from the extreme conditions. In July, the state suffered from an intense “flash drought.” The extent of drought went from zero in the middle of June to more than 50% just four weeks later. Almost the entire southern third of the state was in severe or worse condition.

The Condition Monitoring Observer Reports system, or CMOR as it’s known (as in “see more” drought), helped officials in Missouri monitor drought as it intensified last summer and then again in October. Keeping an eye on changing conditions is a critical first step for planning for and responding to droughts, particularly in an agriculture-dependent state like Missouri.

“Because of the CMOR reports, we really were able to shine a light on the problem,” said Jennifer Hoggatt, the former deputy director of the Missouri Geological Survey. “We look at photos and think, holy cow, something is going on.”

As conditions started ramping up last summer, so did the rate of reporting to CMOR. For most of June, there was one report a week. By the middle of July, reports had gone up to almost 10 a day. On the 19th, they peaked at 36 reports in a single day, with observations describing everything from increased fire risk to reduced pasture for livestock and dried up ponds.

On July 21, the governor declared a drought emergency for 53 counties.

The governor’s executive order activated the state’s Drought Assessment Committee, a working group of several agencies including the Department of Natural Resources (which contains the Geological Survey) that coordinates the state’s drought monitoring and response efforts. The executive order also explicitly called on the Department of Natural Resources to promote CMOR reporting to help the committee identify drought impacts.

“As a resource agency, finding the right resources isn’t always easy. Standard metrics weren’t really showing us how extreme this drought was ramping up to be,” said Hoggatt, who is now director of state resources for the Missouri National Guard. CMOR helped fill that gap.

Hoggatt says that reports also have a direct effect on decision-making within the state by informing the state’s weekly recommendations to the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor. They also help capture the particular impacts affecting different communities. For example, in 2018 when drought conditions last covered more than half the state, it was primarily the northern part of Missouri that was affected, and water supplies were the big issue. This time around, drought was concentrated in the south, and livestock issues were more prominent.

CMOR has become an essential drought monitoring tool in Missouri, and the state’s dedicated efforts to promote the system are evident in the extent to which residents use it. This year, CMOR received 4,277 reports from across the entire country. Arkansas, which also struggled with intense drought conditions that heavily impacted the state’s agricultural industry, led the way with almost 1,800 reports. But Missouri came in second with 538 reports. Most of those observations came in July during the height of the flash drought, but they spiked back up to more than 10 a day as drought conditions intensified again in early October.

The high numbers coming from Missouri and Arkansas aren’t just a reflection of the severity of drought. Neighboring Oklahoma also experienced July’s flash drought and remained almost 90% in drought by year’s end. Yet only 44 reports came in from Oklahoma over the course of 2022. It’s also not just that this year was a fluke. In 2018, the last time things were this bad, almost three quarters of all CMOR reports from across the country—over 1,500 reports—came in from Missouri alone.

Although CMOR developers are working on ways to get observers to submit reports at regular intervals, the crisis-driven reports still tend to be clustered in time. From 2019 to 2021, when the state was largely clear of drought, few reports were submitted to the system. And, this December, as conditions improved and temperatures dropped, only one report was submitted for the entire state.

“What worries me is that we won’t hear about ag and livestock impacts after harvest and it starts to cool off, but we need to be set up for the next year,” said Hoggatt. Missouri needs to remain “vigilant,” she says. Crowdsourced observations like CMOR are an easy and effective way for the state to do that and keep up its monitoring efforts so as to be able to respond rapidly to drought in the future.

As Hoggatt says, “Photos truly are worth 1000 words, maybe more.”

-- Leah Campbell, NDMC Communications