National Drought Mitigation Center


Drought intensifies in New Mexico and the West on U.S. Drought Monitor map

May 9, 2013

The week that ended May 7 saw a net expansion in all categories of drought, concentrated in the West, although areas on the eastern edge of the drought of 2012 continued to improve, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map.

The total area of the 48 contiguous states in moderate drought or worse expanded to 48.06 percent, from 46.9 percent a week earlier, and the area in exceptional drought, the worst category, increased to 4.38 percent from 3.40 percent, according to statistics released with the map. In New Mexico, where irrigators are facing sharply reduced water supplies, exceptional drought covered 39.89 percent of the state, an increase from 24.89 percent the week before.

Prolonged drought in some areas is creating anxiety about the 2013 growing season.

"We are starting out 2013 in by far the worst shape on record, with respect to U.S. pasture and rangeland conditions," said Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist in the Office of the Chief Economist. "This is on the strength of continuing drought from California to the Great Plains. This part of the country accounts for a disproportionately large percentage of the nation’s rangeland. Of course, we’re coming off a year (2012) when all sorts of pasture/rangeland condition records were set (see graph).  Previous drought years that were surpassed by the Drought of 2012 – with respect to poor pasture and rangeland conditions – include 2000, 2002, and 2006."

New Mexico reservoir levels are showing the effects of a record-breaking 30-month dry period through March 2013. This week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author, David Miskus, noted in narrative accompanying the map that the Brantley Reservoir on the Pecos River in southeastern New Mexico is currently at 1 percent of capacity; the combined storage in the four reservoirs on the Pecos is at 25 percent; and the Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico’s chile belt is at 10 percent of capacity, the lowest amount of water available for irrigation in almost 100 years.

This graph from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows pasture and rangeland conditions as they progress through the year, from 1995 to 2012. Note that 2013 is starting out lower than any other year.

Areas that went from abnormally dry to moderate drought on this week’s map include northern California, southern New England and an area in northern West Virginia. Drought also intensified in central California, in Arizona, in southwest Kansas, and in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Hawaii had a net increase in the total area in drought, with the Big Island and Maui getting worse. 

More than half (53 percent) of the U.S. winter wheat remains in a drought area, down one percentage point from last week, Rippey said. Cattle in drought also fell one percentage point to 53 percent, while hay in drought was unchanged at 41 percent. Corn, 35 percent in drought, and soybeans, 27 percent in drought, had four-point declines from the previous week.

For more drought impacts and reports, drill into the Drought Impact Reporter map at or see the RSS feed for any state, such as New Mexico, at 

A New Mexico drought workshop, Drought Outlook and Management Considerations for Rangeland Livestock Production, will be May 29 in Socorro. Hosts are the New Mexico section of the Society for Range Management, the National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Integrated Drought Information System. For more information please see

On the opposite end of the precipitation spectrum, heavy rains, with more than 10 inches in Jacksonville and St. John's County, brought dramatic improvement to drought in central Florida. Precipitation over the Mississippi Valley eased drought in western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, most of central Iowa and western Missouri. Drought receded in eastern Nebraska and eastern Kansas.

U.S. Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas of the country that are abnormally dry (D0), in moderate drought (D1), in severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3) and exceptional drought (D4).

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 350 drought observers across the country. This week’s author was David Miskus, with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

The map is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday morning.

Statistics for the percent area in each category of drought are automatically added to the U.S. Drought Monitor website each week for the entire country and Puerto Rico, for the 48 contiguous states, for each climate region, and for individual states. U.S. Drought Monitor data online goes back to January 2000.

U.S. Drought Monitor map, statistics and narrative summary:

USDA’s weekly “Agriculture in Drought” analysis:

National Climatic Data Center’s State of the Climate Drought Summary:

Seasonal Drought Outlook:

 -- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center