Record heat across the US: Summer 2020 in every state
Record heat across the US: Summer 2020 in every state
Wildfires, drought, hurricanes, storms, and flooding served as hallmarks for one of the hottest summers in recorded U.S. history. An average temperature of 73.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.2 degrees above normal, made the summer of 2020 the fourth-hottest in history. Lower-than-normal rainfall also placed this summer among the driest, placing in the top one-third according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Three states experienced their hottest summers on record, and several more broke their top 10, all experiencing extreme weather.
New temperature records coincided with heat-driven plights across the nation. Americans faced the loss of loved ones, homes, land, and more to record-breaking wildfires that destroyed millions of acres. Wells dried up, and rivers, lakes, and reservoirs faced lower water levels, prompting mandatory and voluntary restrictions in several communities. Drought stressed crops, and heavy rainfall washed them out or opened them to diseases. Hurricanes and tropical storms brought flooding, power outages, fallen trees, and extensive property damage.
Energy demand, triggered by use of power fans or air conditioners in response to blistering temperatures, spiked to 224% above average, the fourth-highest value in 126 years. Air conditioning and other cooling technology proved essential in helping prevent heat-related death and illness, such as stroke, exhaustion, and cramps, during extreme heat.
Climate change threatens to not only bring hotter, record-breaking temperatures but more also heat waves and drought, shortfalls and spikes in precipitation, stronger hurricanes, and larger, more-frequent wildfires. An influx of extreme weather propelled by global warming could also stress water resources, shrink food and crop supplies, and damage infrastructure like roads, bridges, transportation, and more. As the climate continues to warm, Americans could face more summers packed with adverse weather and record heat.
To put the summer of 2020 in historical perspective, Stacker reviewed a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dataset published in October that contained monthly weather data from June to September, and historical temperature averages from 1901 to 2000 for each of the 48 contiguous states. Stacker calculated a percentage change from the historical average and displayed this summer's rank in comparison to the 126 previous years. The temperature database from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information excluded Hawaii and Alaska.
Read on to find out where this record-breaking summer takes its place in U.S. history.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 78.0° F (0.3% above historical average; #60 warmest since 1894)
This year brought Alabama its third-wettest six-month period between January and August on record, thanks in part to excessive heat and wet weather. The state faced Tropical Storm Cristobal in early June, which brought extensive rainfall and flooding to some southern parts of the state, according to various news reports. In September, Hurricane Sally caused flooding, power outages, fallen trees that blocked roads, and hundreds of rescues in one county alone. Portions of the state experienced abnormally dry or drought conditions during the summer, however, particularly the eastern portion, where abnormally-dry weather forced farmers to run irrigation for their crops in July.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 79.8° F (5.1% above historical average; #1 warmest since 1894)
The high-temperature record broke in Phoenix in July at 98.9 degrees Fahrenheit and then again in August at 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit, with high temperatures fueled by years of urbanization and rising greenhouse gasses alongside a lack of rainfall and storm activity from a weaker monsoon season. Increasing heat over the years has raised concerns in the fourth-fastest warming city about growing rates of heat-related illness and death. Tucson and Flagstaff also saw record-breaking temperatures, and some researchers believe that as the climate warms, Arizona will experience more extreme heat and less rain in the future.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 76.9° F (0.5% below historical average; #79 warmest since 1894)
Most of the state experienced above-average temperatures in July, then faced colder temperatures in August. The capital city of Little Rock, in particular, experienced lower-than-average temperatures for the fourth consecutive summer and zero days with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a second year.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 75.1° F (5.3% above historical average; #1 warmest since 1894)
Record-breaking heat and dry weather helped fuel the wildfires ravaging California. More than 8,000 blazes, including a notable one at El Dorado Ranch Park caused by a pyrotechnic used during a gender reveal party, scorched more than 4 million acres, destroyed more than 9,000 structures, and killed 31 people. The August Complex fire that ignited in mid-August in northeastern California has since burnt more than 1 million acres alone, making it the first “gigafire” in modern history.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 65.8° F (4.9% above historical average; #3 warmest since 1894)
Hot and dry weather caused Colorado to receive its first 100% drought declaration for the first time in eight years and experience its largest wildfire in recorded history, which ignited at Grand Junction and torched 139,000 acres. According to the Denver Post, above-normal temperatures and aridity afflicted crops, forests, and water flow in streams and rivers, and smoke from wildfires fumed ozone, which can cause respiratory issues, and other pollutants in Denver. In July, some cities, like Denver and Pueblo, experienced more than 20 days of temperatures of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and Alamosa experienced a record-high and record-low temperature of 92 and 37 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, on the same day.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 70.2° F (5.6% above historical average; #2 warmest since 1894)
Several municipalities enacted mandatory and voluntary water restrictions due to drought caused in part by above-average and sometimes record-breaking temperatures, as well as decreased waterway and reservoir levels. Drought conditions carried into fall, when the state received an increasing number of reports for low water levels in private wells, agriculture water supplies, fire suppression ponds, and streams in the easter portion of the state. According to the NOAA, Hartford experienced 39 days of above 90 degree Fahrenheit temperatures this summer, the most on record.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 75.3° F (4.7% above historical average; #5 warmest since 1894)
Tropical Storm Isaias ravaged Delaware in August, as the state faced above-average heat and wet weather. The storm caused power outages, $20 million in damages, at least one death, and three tornadoes, one of which beat the state’s longest tornado track at 35 miles. The state also faced heat waves in June and July.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 81.9° F (2.2% above historical average; #7 warmest since 1894)
High temperatures posed challenges to farmers across the state, although some areas faced drought and abnormally dry conditions, while others experienced wetter than normal weather. According to the NOAA, citrus growers adapted to abnormally arid weather with irrigation, and peanut digging continued in the Panhandle, despite sporadic rain delaying some harvesting and afflicting certain farmers’ peanut plants with leaf spot and white mold. Hurricane Sally, however, drenched fields and destroyed crops in the Panhandle in September.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 78.3° F (0.8% above historical average; #42 warmest since 1894)
The summer brought dry weather to Georgia, with some eastern areas of the state experiencing moderate drought. Farmers avoided having their corn dry down when an uptick in rain occurred at the end of the summer, but some growers dealt with whiteflies and boll rot in cotton after the precipitation.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 61.8° F (3.0% above historical average; #18 warmest since 1894)
Idaho began the summer with cooler and wetter weather than normal in the eastern portion in June, but ended it with above-average heat and aridity in August. A low-pressure system and cold netstream brought snowfall to the mountains of northern and central Idaho, as well as parts of Montana, in mid-June. By August, however, some areas in southern and central Idaho experienced “temperatures that either broke records for the month or fell within the top-10th percentile warmest on record,” according to the NOAA
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 72.3° F (1.0% above historical average; #47 warmest since 1894)
Despite experiencing drier than normal conditions, northern Illinois endured extreme winds and tornadoes from a storm complex, or derecho, in August that was brought on by warm and wet weather in the Midwest. Storm winds felled trees that blocked roads and damaged cars and buildings in and around Chicago. Other parts of the state, particularly the south, experienced wetter than normal weather, according to the NOAA, with Tropical Storm Cristobal bringing heavy rain and high-speed winds in June.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 71.5° F (1.0% above historical average; #47 warmest since 1894)
Above-normal temperatures complemented dryer than typical conditions in northern Indiana and wetter than average weather in the southern portion of the state for much of the summer, according to the NOAA. The derecho that hit the Midwest brought tornadoes and high-speed winds that caused power outages, property damage, and at least one death, involving a woman who was trapped in a mobile home with a child. In July, some municipalities in central Indiana experienced temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 70.5° F (1.7% above historical average; #32 warmest since 1894)
Many Iowans living in Des Moines, Adel, and other areas experienced water restrictions in August to preserve water during a drought this summer. About 60% of the state faced drought and 95% experienced abnormally dry weather by the end of August, but drought conditions ended in mid-September due to rain. Drought also stressed corn and soybeans and drained soil moisture, and raging winds from the Midwest derecho damaged millions of crop acreage, according to the NOAA.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 74.9° F (0.5% above historical average; #54 warmest since 1894)
In early July, following several weeks of abnormally warm and dry weather, Gov. Laura Kelly issued drought declarations for 75 of 105 counties, including 13 that received emergency status and the ability to syphon water from state fishing lakes. Heavy rainfall that month improved but didn’t eliminate drought conditions and soil moisture in affected areas, and it caused flooding in some waterways. The state saw the drought continue to weaken in August, and one isolated area in west-central Kansas experienced rainfall levels reaching about 150% above normal.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 73.6° F (0.7% above historical average; #47 warmest since 1894)
Excessive rainfall and Tropical Storm Cristobal in June kicked off a wetter than normal summer for Kentucky, which experienced hotter than usual temperatures overall. Flooding and flash flooding derived from the heavy precipitation, which prompted an evacuation near Beaver Dam and a rescue in Willisburg that resulted in one death, per the NOAA. The western part of the state received the most rain, experiencing “surpluses of up to seven or more inches,” according to Spectrum News 1.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 80.6° F (0.6% above historical average; #41 warmest since 1894)
Louisiana exhibited hotter and wetter than normal weather in its southern portion when it faced Hurricane Laura, which tied for the strongest storm to hit the state. According to the New York Times, the hurricane killed six people, ravaged buildings, and caused a chemical plant fire in Lake Charles, power loss for 880,000 users, and water loss for tens of thousands. It followed Hurricanes Marco and Hanna, which posed significantly fewer issues for the state.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 63.6° F (4.6% above historical average; #2 warmest since 1894)
Severe drought affected most of the state, but extreme drought was experienced in more than 50% of York County (which has a measure for voluntary water conservation for nonessential use), coastal areas in Cumberland County, and pockets of Aroostok and Penobscot county. Drought conditions dried wells for residents from several counties and caused low water levels in certain rivers and streams, crop damage and loss, and more than 900 wildfires, according to the Portland Press Herald. Maine’s largest city, Portland, experienced its hottest summer on record.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 74.2° F (3.9% above historical average; #9 warmest since 1894)
Both Baltimore and its home state experienced its hottest July on record this summer, the same month when the first heat-related death of the year occurred. The city faced 25 days of temperatures at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 148-year-old record, at a time when COVID-19 forced officials to limit capacity for its 10 cooling centers to 25%.
According to the NOAA, moderate drought affected central and southeastern Maryland, and dry and hot weather hurt crops in the western portion of the state in July, but August brought heavy rainfall, flash flooding, and tornadoes.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 69.1° F (5.5% above historical average; #2 warmest since 1894)
An almost-statewide drought forced more than 150 municipalities to implement water restrictions, dried up and reduced rivers and streams, and fueled more than 1,000 wildfires. Fewer mosquitoes were active in the state as a result of dried-up breeding grounds, and many lawns turned brown. Groundwater levels were low in central Massachusetts as of October.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 66.2° F (3.6% above historical average; #15 warmest since 1894)
Abnormal heat helped fuel drier than average weather in most of the southern portion of the state and excessive rain in the northern half. Western pockets of lower Michigan experienced moderate drought conditions at the end of August, while the “thumb” on the eastern side experienced drought in July. The August derecho in the Midwest caused 100,000 customers in the state to lose power, according to the NOAA.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 66.0° F (3.3% above historical average; #11 warmest since 1894)
Pockets of Minnesota, including metro Duluth and parts of the southern portion of the state, experienced dry conditions earlier in the summer, and much of the state faced wetter than normal conditions. Duluth, which had 28 days of below-average rainfall in June, is experiencing one of its driest years. The state also experienced its strongest tornado since 2010, which killed one person and injured two others, in July, according to the NOAA.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 79.0° F (0.4% above historical average; #49 warmest since 1894)
Tropical Storm Cristobal struck the Mississippi coast, causing $3.9 million in damage to one county alone and prompting 29 evacuations in a single state park. The state experienced its 54th-coldest June, with pockets throughout the state experiencing below-average temperatures. Most of the state exhibited above-normal temperatures in July, but then temperatures fell back below normal for western, central, and northern Mississippi in August.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 73.9° F (0.3% above historical average; #55 warmest since 1894)
Missouri began its summer with abnormally dry weather in June; by September, some residents were forced to haul water in the face of dry springs and ponds, small crop yields and burned-up pastures. The first two summer months experienced above normal temperatures, but they fell to below average in the last two months of the season, according to the Missouri Climate Center at the University of Missouri.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 62.4° F (3.1% above historical average; #20 warmest since 1894)
Montana went from hot to cold to hot this summer, as it experienced above-average temperatures in June and August and below-normal temperatures in July. Wildfires scorched more than 250,000 acres across the state and racked up at least $10 million in flame suppression costs starting late July. While the ignition of 75% of the blazes has been attributed to human action, a combination of hotter than average temperatures, low humidity, abnormal aridity, and unpredictable winds fueled wildfire conditions in Montana, which was under a state of emergency in September.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 71.4° F (2.7% above historical average; #18 warmest since 1894)
Farmers enjoyed high soybean yields and a strong corn crop in August and July despite hot and dry conditions leading to drought or abnormally dry conditions. The panhandle and northeastern portion of Nebraska experienced drought conditions, including three counties with severe drought everywhere. Some counties permitted emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land, and the city of Stanton asked residents to voluntarily decrease their water use, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 70.4° F (5.1% above historical average; #3 warmest since 1894)
Las Vegas experienced 61 days of triple-digit temperatures from July 1 to Aug. 31, as well as the hottest August on record. The fastest-warming city in the U.S. faces spikes in heat-related deaths and heat waves, as well as problems involving construction, education, electricity, and other services as the climate warms. In August, the entire state experienced high or record-breaking heat, setting new benchmarks for the maximum and minimum temperatures.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 65.1° F (4.7% above historical average; #4 warmest since 1894)
Drought fueled by near-record heat and dry conditions promoted water restrictions for more than 140 systems by the end of August. Soil moisture, groundwater, river, and lake levels plummeted in more than one-fifth of the state, which experienced severe drought in the last month of summer. New Hampshire and most of New England continue to face drought, with water levels for some lakes in the Granite State decreasing to their lowest levels in decades.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 73.1° F (4.9% above historical average; #6 warmest since 1894)
Extreme weather and a deluge of rain hit New Jersey during a summer of higher than normal temperatures. Hurricane Isaias brought heavy precipitation and two tornadoes to the state in August, with storms that caused flash flooding following days later. The state also experienced its 15th-wettest July on record, propelled by Tropical Storm Fay, which brought 3 to 7 inches of rain and a rip current that killed one person in Margate City. The state received an average of 15.93 inches of rain this summer, making it the 26th-wettest at 3.25 inches above average.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 72.5° F (4.6% above historical average; #2 warmest since 1894)
The largest water reservoir in the state, Elephant Butte, dried to 4% capacity by late September during a summer of excessive heat, scant rain, and dry soil. At the end of July, all seven tracked reservoirs in the Rio Grande basin, including Elephant Butte, reported falling to below 64% of average water supplies. New Mexico faces a water debt to Texas after borrowing 11 billion gallons from the El Vado Reservoir, prompting the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to end the irrigation season short in early October, which could hamper crop growth.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 66.5° F (3.7% above historical average; #7 warmest since 1894)
New York experienced its second-hottest July on record, with a drought that prompted a burn ban in St. Lawrence County (where aridity fueled several grass and brush fires from June 27 to July 17) and water restrictions in many areas. The drought this summer also brought farmers drought stress in some corn, uneven oat maturity, and other issues that resulted in mixed crop conditions. The state also experienced fallout from Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Isaias, according to the NOAA.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 75.1° F (1.3% above historical average; #32 warmest since 1894)
Warm and wet weather permeated much of North Carolina this summer, with no drought conditions and only a few locations reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This summer, however, was one of only three in the past 20 years to exhibit both above-average temperatures and no drought, according to the North Carolina Climate Office. Hurricane Isaias brought localized flooding in August.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 65.9° F (3.3% above historical average; #15 warmest since 1894)
Much of the state experienced drier than normal weather, particularly in the central, western, and the northern regions, according to the NOAA. By August, 54% of the state exhibited abnormally arid conditions, while 11% faced moderate drought. Other areas, however, experienced above-average rainfall, with southeastern North Dakota receiving at least 200% percent of normal precipitation for August.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 71.0° F (2.5% above historical average; #17 warmest since 1894)
Several storms rolled through the state during much of its hotter than usual summer. Severe thunderstorm winds caused the roof of the Sandusky State Theater to collapse into the auditorium and a water main break to break, flooding its basement. Ohio faced a derecho and multiple severe thunderstorms in August, and the central portion of the state experienced downed trees, power loss, and flooding from storm weather in September. Ohio was one of the warmest states in the Midwest in July, thanks in part to record-breaking temperatures in Akron and Mansfield.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 77.7° F (0.5% below historical average; #80 warmest since 1894)
The summer kicked off with the heat kicking up, as much of the state experienced above-average temperatures in June, but the weather cooled as time progressed. Temperatures fell in August due to three cold fronts, one of which brought flooding and golf-ball-sized hail on Aug. 31, and they dropped further as a result of an early-September cold snap. Most of the state, however, experienced drought throughout the summer, according to the NOAA.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 63.5° F (4.4% above historical average; #7 warmest since 1894)
The summer began with relatively normal temperatures in June and July, then temperatures began to increase in August and spiked in September, with a sharp rise in wildfires. Fire crews battled 899 blazes that affected more than 800,000 acres as of Oct. 13. Wildfires not only razed homes and businesses, but sent historic levels of air pollution to Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford, and Klamath Falls.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 68.9° F (3.5% above historical average; #8 warmest since 1894)
Western Pennsylvania dealt with drought, while other areas experienced excessive rain from storms. Eighteen counties in the central and western portions of the state were under drought watch by September, and residents were asked to reduce their daily water consumption by 3 to6 gallons. When Hurricane Isaias struck, it brought a deluge of rain and flooding, with one flood incident along the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia causing millions of dollars in damage, and two tornadoes.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 70.4° F (6.2% above historical average; #1 warmest since 1894)
The hottest summer in Rhode Island history concluded with the onset of extreme drought for the entire state, a first in decades. About 100 wildfires ignited, scorching 77 acres and causing property damage and injury, and the drought reduced stream flows, dried wells, caused crop loss, and stressed Christmas tree farms. After witnessing fire climb trees and other abnormal flame activity for the state, officials raised concerns about residents igniting more fires with lawnmowers and chains.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 77.9° F (0.8% above historical average; #43 warmest since 1894)
Growers in South Carolina struggled this summer, with some facing abnormally dry weather and others facing excessive rainfall. Heat and aridity damaged crops for some producers, while wet weather brought disease to other growers’ crops or, in the Midlands, forced them to replant after heavy rain drenched fields.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 69.3° F (3.0% above historical average; #16 warmest since 1894)
The 518-day streak of flood levels in the James River in Columbia ended near the close of a dry summer, during which 29% of the state experienced drought. A bomb cyclone in March 2019 kickstarted the flood stage on April 2, and heavy rain and snowmelt that year fueled high water levels, but arid weather allowed the river to subside. Temperatures remained relatively normal, except in August, when hot weather combined with aridity helped fuel wildfires in part of the state.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 74.8° F (0.7% above historical average; #45 warmest since 1894)
The summer began with below-normal temperatures in June, but temperatures increased to above normal for July and August, when the state began to experience wetter weather, before falling again in September. Western Tennessee, which according to the NOAA experienced below-average temperatures this summer, endured a drought in June that ended with rainfall in early July.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 81.0° F (1.4% above historical average; #26 warmest since 1894)
Much of Texas, minus its southern portion, endured drought conditions during a hot and dry summer, with the western portion bearing the brunt of it. Western Texas experienced temperatures between three and five degrees Fahrenheit above normal and received 25% or less of normal rain. Drought persisted through the end of the summer, ten conditions improved in parts of north, east, and central Texas in September, with above-average rainfall relieving the central and eastern portions.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 69.6° F (4.8% above historical average; #4 warmest since 1894)
A shortage of monsoon rains fueled drought in Utah. By September, 80% of the state was in extreme drought, and 1,300 wildfires torched 250,000 acres. In August, 99% of Utah experienced drought condition as triple-digit temperatures heated the state.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 64.2° F (4.2% above historical average; #5 warmest since 1894)
Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York fell more than a foot below normal levels in July during the heat and drought, presenting low-level obstacles to boaters. July brought record-high temperatures to the lake and the city of Burlington, which experienced its hottest summer on record. According to the NOAA, the summer also brought dry wells, reduced corn and hay yields, and at least four ground fires.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 73.0° F (2.1% above historical average; #21 warmest since 1894)
A summer of hotter than normal temperatures ultimately became the 10th-wettest on record for Virginia. The state experienced hot and dry weather in June and July, with Richmond International Airport recording the second-longest streak of days at 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter (25, from July 10 to Aug. 3). It then experienced its seventh-wettest August in recorded history and above-average rainfall in September, with more normal temperatures in the latter.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 62.4° F (3.1% above historical average; #17 warmest since 1894)
Wildfires capped an unusually warm summer in Washington. Blazes, which were ongoing as of October, consumed more than 800,000 acres between Labor Day and Sept. 10, bringing poor air quality and smoke that spurred cardiac arrest and exacerbated asthma. Temperatures ranged from below to above normal across the state this summer until September, when practically the entire state was much above normal temperatures.
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- Average summer 2020 temperature: 69.9° F (1.9% above historical average; #26 warmest since 1894)
Cattle farmers thinned their herds in July when abnormally hot and arid weather dried their pastures, while some produce farmers experienced slow crop growth and loss. Northern West Virginia experienced moderate drought in July, according to the NOAA, but the next month, which also exhibited warmer than normal temperatures, brought enough rainfall to make the state experience its 16th-wettest August on record.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 66.0° F (2.6% above historical average; #21 warmest since 1894)
Wisconsin experienced its hottest July in eight years, exacerbated, like June, by drought conditions. August brought more rainfall than usual to the state, but toward the end of the month, five counties exhibited abnormally dry conditions, and five endured moderate drought, worrying farmers over hay yield.
- Average summer 2020 temperature: 62.4° F (4.2% above historical average; #11 warmest since 1894)
Pockets of Wyoming saw early snowfall in the beginning of September, which led to power outages and tree damage, standing out in a summer of hot temperatures, drought, and wildfires. The Mullen Fire, one of the largest blazes in state history that ignited on Sept. 17, torched 176,213 acres as of Oct. 14, but firefighters contained 30% of it. In August, drought crept into 75% of the state, resulting in much of its pastureland exhibiting poor quality.
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