The United States Drought Monitor gives a good perspective on how local, regional, and national experts are monitoring the current drought conditions. It is based upon multiple drought indicators, including various indices, outlooks, field reports, and news accounts, in addition to consultation with experts from across the country. The Drought Monitor is updated each Thursday, and allows for regional and state views as well.
The U.S. Drought Monitor summary map identifies general drought areas, labeling droughts by intensity, with D1 being the least intense and D4 being the most intense. D0, drought watch areas, are either drying out and possibly heading for drought, or are recovering from drought but not yet back to normal, suffering long-term impacts such as low reservoir levels.
The U.S. Drought Monitor also generally includes a description of what the primary physical effects are:
A = agricultural (crops, pastures, and grasslands)
H = water supplies (rivers, groundwater and reservoirs)
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the big picture, not local conditions.
U.S. Drought Monitor Drought Severity Classification
||Going into drought: short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures.
Coming out of drought: some lingering water deficits; pastures or crops not fully recovered
||Some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; voluntary water-use restrictions requested
||Crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed
||Major crop/pasture losses; widespread water shortages or restrictions
||Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook shows predicted trends for ongoing drought areas depicted in the U.S. Drought Monitor, as well as indicating where new droughts may develop. It shows general, large-scale trends.
The Seasonal Drought Outlook takes into consideration current drought conditions, precipitation forecasts and projections, soil moisture models, seasonal climate anomalies such as El Nino or La Nina conditions, and other models.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook is issued on the first and third Thursday of each month, and when weather events warrant an interim update.
Reference: NOAA/NWS "Drought: Public Fact Sheet"