States with the worst droughts

Written by:
March 24, 2021
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States with the worst droughts

The 21st century has given the United States a dose of what the future of climate change has in store. “All of the years on record that were hotter or more disaster-filled came in the past decade,” according to Climate Central in 2019.

That record refers to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA climate reports that show the hottest 10 years on record occurred between 1998 and 2018, as did the years with record numbers of weather and climate-related disasters each costing over $1 billion in losses. Among those disasters were several significant, costly, and deadly droughts.

Stacker ranked each state and Washington D.C., based on the average percentage of the state land that experienced drought conditions in the 20-year period from 2000 to March 2021, using data from the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM). The USDM categories drought conditions using a five point scale ranging from "abnormally dry," indicating some short-term crop dryness or a lingering water deficit, to "exceptional drought," a serious condition involving a water emergency that leads to widespread crop/pasture losses.

The list also describes conditions that led to drought—or the lack thereof—in each state, while looking at the events leading up to the state's change in drought status over the course of the year. Continue reading to learn which states experience the worst droughts.

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#51. Ohio

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 6,631 sq. mi. (16.1% of land area); 1,815,050 people (15.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 1,987 sq. mi. (4.8% of land area); 582,980 people (5.1% of population)
--- Severe drought: 331 sq. mi. (0.8% of land area); 88,964 people (0.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 29 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 10,379 people (0.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Ohio’s longest 21st-century drought took place nearly 20 years ago and it lasted 44 weeks, from 2002–2003. Trouble is once again, however, on the horizon. A June 2020 report cited the rapid decline of soil moisture and persistent dry weather as probable indicators that the remainder of the year could be hard on farmers, as several crops were already showing signs of drought stress.

 

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#50. Alaska

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 95,420 sq. mi. (16.4% of land area); 159,582 people (23.2% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 6,632 sq. mi. (1.1% of land area); 17,167 people (2.5% of population)
--- Severe drought: 905 sq. mi. (0.2% of land area); 3,466 people (0.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 112 sq. mi.; 703 people (0.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

The beginning of the longest drought on record in the state of Alaska was July 17, 2018; the end did not come until Jan. 14, 2020. The week of Aug. 27, 2019, was the worst of the 79-week drought. Drought in Alaska impacts agriculture and wildlife, as well as the people living and working in the region. 

 

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#49. New York

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 8,721 sq. mi. (18.0% of land area); 4,174,482 people (21.5% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 2,294 sq. mi. (4.7% of land area); 1,802,762 people (9.3% of population)
--- Severe drought: 477 sq. mi. (1.0% of land area); 501,351 people (2.6% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 43 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 49,983 people (0.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Much of upstate New York is facing abnormally dry or drought conditions. Places like Syracuse and Jefferson and Lewis counties went into the summer of 2020 well below their average precipitation levels, and the area hasn’t seen significant improvement since.

 

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#48. Indiana

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 7,238 sq. mi. (20.0% of land area); 1,298,622 people (20.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 2,807 sq. mi. (7.8% of land area); 520,443 people (8.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 1,007 sq. mi. (2.8% of land area); 183,086 people (2.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 198 sq. mi. (0.5% of land area); 32,288 people (0.5% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 35 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 4,165 people (0.1% of population)

Central Indiana got much-needed drenching rains in the second week of July 2020, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Despite the downpours, virtually all of the region—including Indianapolis, Muncie, and Terre Haute—was categorized as “abnormally dry” last summer, and more than one-third of the state is still facing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions.

 

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CEW // Shutterstock

#47. Pennsylvania

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 9,158 sq. mi. (20.2% of land area); 2,454,188 people (19.3% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 1,951 sq. mi. (4.3% of land area); 708,732 people (5.6% of population)
--- Severe drought: 341 sq. mi. (0.8% of land area); 199,041 people (1.6% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 69 sq. mi. (0.2% of land area); 72,441 people (0.6% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; 15 people

Abnormally dry conditions gripped large swaths of New England and Northern New York, then Pennsylvania, in summer 2020. Conditions were particularly bad on the state’s southern border with West Virginia and the Lehigh Valley area, which is home to the historic towns of Bethlehem and Allentown. The statewide drought watch finally ended in early February 2021.

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#46. New Jersey

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 1,548 sq. mi. (20.3% of land area); 1,853,330 people (21.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 669 sq. mi. (8.8% of land area); 860,105 people (9.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 255 sq. mi. (3.3% of land area); 293,147 people (3.3% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 73 sq. mi. (1.0% of land area); 81,940 people (0.9% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; 25 people

Moderate drought—the first official drought categorization after the most benign classification, “abnormally dry”—is fairly rare in New Jersey, with the state facing that designation only once or twice a decade. “Severe drought” is next, and that happens in the Garden State only once every 10–20 years. Next, there’s the even rarer “extreme drought,” followed by the worst classification: “exceptional drought,” which only happened once in New Jersey in the 21st century.

 

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#45. Vermont

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 1,970 sq. mi. (20.4% of land area); 125,413 people (20.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 624 sq. mi. (6.5% of land area); 39,182 people (6.3% of population)
--- Severe drought: 51 sq. mi. (0.5% of land area); 3,423 people (0.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 00 sq. mi.; 00 people
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

New York’s parched North Country region extends into Vermont, and weather conditions don’t recognize state borders. Severe drought conditions hit 29.39% of the state’s land in the week starting Sept. 29, 2020.

 

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#44. West Virginia

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 4,972 sq. mi. (20.5% of land area); 370,184 people (20.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 1,108 sq. mi. (4.6% of land area); 88,510 people (4.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 251 sq. mi. (1.0% of land area); 20,334 people (1.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 33 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 2,929 people (0.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Much of West Virginia was in a drought by the fall of 2019, when moderate drought conditions extended into the southern part of the state from the north. It was the last widespread drought there, and although the state mostly emerged, the dry conditions plaguing parts of Pennsylvania extended into West Virginia.

 

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Zach Frank // Shutterstock

#43. Maine

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 7,011 sq. mi. (21.6% of land area); 327,597 people (24.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 3,154 sq. mi. (9.7% of land area); 147,250 people (11.1% of population)
--- Severe drought: 1,188 sq. mi. (3.7% of land area); 55,797 people (4.2% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 204 sq. mi. (0.6% of land area); 11,930 people (0.9% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

After a record lack of rainfall plunged about half of the state into moderate drought conditions in mid-2020, the state has significantly recovered, with only 8% of the state abnormally dry, and none facing actual drought conditions. Blueberry farmers are likely breathing a sigh of relief this year, after 2020 crop production was decimated, first by frost, then drought.

 

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#42. New Hampshire

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 2,065 sq. mi. (22.3% of land area); 324,417 people (24.6% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 876 sq. mi. (9.5% of land area); 154,445 people (11.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 359 sq. mi. (3.9% of land area); 72,639 people (5.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 29 sq. mi. (0.3% of land area); 10,590 people (0.8% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Storms in January ended the extreme drought conditions that plagued New Hampshire in 2020. But more than half of the state is still abnormally dry, with three counties facing moderate drought. In 2020, some portions of the state dealt with a precipitation deficit of a full 7 inches on the year.

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#41. Kentucky

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 9,071 sq. mi. (22.5% of land area); 914,420 people (21.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 4,103 sq. mi. (10.2% of land area); 409,024 people (9.4% of population)
--- Severe drought: 1,688 sq. mi. (4.2% of land area); 158,170 people (3.6% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 499 sq. mi. (1.2% of land area); 44,599 people (1.0% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 63 sq. mi. (0.2% of land area); 4,197 people (0.1% of population)

As of March 2020, Kentucky is drought-free, with less than 1% of the state classified as abnormally dry. That wasn’t the case in 2019. The first half of that year was wet, but by fall, the state was wracked with a historic drought, its worst since 1895.

 

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Ritu Manoj Jethani // Shutterstock

#40. Delaware

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 467 sq. mi. (22.8% of land area); 185,881 people (20.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 231 sq. mi. (11.3% of land area); 84,869 people (9.5% of population)
--- Severe drought: 101 sq. mi. (4.9% of land area); 40,603 people (4.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 25 sq. mi. (1.2% of land area); 13,123 people (1.5% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 3 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 984 people (0.1% of population)

As of March 2021, Delaware is experiencing no abnormally dry or drought conditions, but in the early 2000s, the state was crippled by an extended drought for a full year between 2001–2002. By August 2002, nearly three-quarters of the state was suffering under exceptional drought conditions, the most serious classification possible.

 

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#39. Illinois

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 13,166 sq. mi. (23.4% of land area); 2,661,221 people (20.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 6,103 sq. mi. (10.8% of land area); 1,357,777 people (10.6% of population)
--- Severe drought: 2,272 sq. mi. (4.0% of land area); 555,270 people (4.3% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 695 sq. mi. (1.2% of land area); 172,089 people (1.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 25 sq. mi.; 1,304 people

More than 25% of Illinois is facing a dearth of precipitation, but conditions are nothing compared to two periods in the oughts. The state’s most significant drought of the 21st century lasted from May 2005 to May 2006 and during the last week of July 2012, nearly 9% of Illinois was suffering from exceptional drought conditions.

 

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#38. Maryland

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 2,362 sq. mi. (24.1% of land area); 1,254,957 people (24.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 1,062 sq. mi. (10.8% of land area); 596,775 people (11.6% of population)
--- Severe drought: 403 sq. mi. (4.1% of land area); 209,981 people (4.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 111 sq. mi. (1.1% of land area); 69,590 people (1.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 7 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 2,511 people

After extended and exceptional droughts early in this century, Maryland is no longer arid. Like neighboring Delaware, Maryland’s most recent extended drought came early in the century, lasting more than a year between 2001–2002. Also like Delaware, the most intense spell was in August 2002, when nearly 40% of the state was suffering from exceptional drought, the most extreme classification.

 

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#37. Michigan

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 14,131 sq. mi. (24.3% of land area); 2,152,533 people (21.8% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 4,601 sq. mi. (7.9% of land area); 608,679 people (6.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 1,070 sq. mi. (1.8% of land area); 90,620 people (0.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 73 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 1,577 people
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Michigan missed the drought conditions seen in other parts of the country in 2020, but almost half the state is missing out on precipitation in 2021. A researcher at Michigan State University is studying the prospect of extreme droughts worldwide, and has daunting news.

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#36. Massachusetts

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 1,990 sq. mi. (24.5% of land area); 1,679,606 people (25.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 886 sq. mi. (10.9% of land area); 750,271 people (11.5% of population)
--- Severe drought: 305 sq. mi. (3.7% of land area); 255,969 people (3.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 69 sq. mi. (0.8% of land area); 76,025 people (1.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Even though Massachusetts is no longer facing drought conditions, the state is still asking residents to watch their water consumption. Prior to precipitation in November, Massachusetts had been facing extreme drought conditions in 2020.

 

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#35. Washington DC

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 16 sq. mi. (25.8% of land area); 155,375 people (25.8% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 8 sq. mi. (14.0% of land area); 84,251 people (14.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 2 sq. mi. (3.9% of land area); 23,484 people (3.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1 sq. mi. (0.9% of land area); 5,415 people (0.9% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Current conditions in D.C. don’t indicate drought, and weather forecasts call for more than adequate rainfall. But in 2019, the district experienced what’s known as a flash drought. Thanks to an unusually hot and dry September, D.C. went from normal conditions to drought conditions much more rapidly than usual.

 

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#34. Rhode Island

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 284 sq. mi. (25.9% of land area); 273,743 people (26.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 129 sq. mi. (11.8% of land area); 124,438 people (11.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 35 sq. mi. (3.2% of land area); 32,966 people (3.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 06 sq. mi. (0.5% of land area); 4,966 people (0.5% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

As of March 2021, 99.3% of the state was abnormally dry. In late September 2020, almost 100% of the state was facing extreme drought. For 36 weeks between 2015 and 2016, Rhode Island was in a full-fledged drought, its longest dry spell since 2000.

 

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#33. Connecticut

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 1,395 sq. mi. (28.0% of land area); 991,934 people (27.8% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 629 sq. mi. (12.6% of land area); 448,599 people (12.6% of population)
--- Severe drought: 228 sq. mi. (4.6% of land area); 175,548 people (4.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 36 sq. mi. (0.7% of land area); 27,143 people (0.8% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

After months of drought, Connecticut finally escaped exceptionally dry conditions in December 2020, but as of March 2021, 20.6% of the state is facing abnormally dry conditions. In 2020, more than half the state was classified as too dry, and the pandemic drove up water consumption in the already-parched New England state.

 

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#32. Wisconsin

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 16,075 sq. mi. (28.7% of land area); 1,333,925 people (23.5% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 7,381 sq. mi. (13.2% of land area); 569,854 people (10.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 2,335 sq. mi. (4.2% of land area); 167,218 people (2.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 226 sq. mi. (0.4% of land area); 22,610 people (0.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

The majority of Wisconsin is abnormally dry (as of March 2021), along with other states in the region, but no areas are facing moderate or worse drought. In 2012, Wisconsin suffered from a significant drought that represented the worst dry spell since a drought devastated the state in 1988, a moment that is still fresh in the minds of farmers there.

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#31. Virginia

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 12,065 sq. mi. (30.2% of land area); 2,195,667 people (27.8% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 5,415 sq. mi. (13.5% of land area); 1,007,725 people (12.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 1,985 sq. mi. (5.0% of land area); 370,897 people (4.7% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 526 sq. mi. (1.3% of land area); 76,333 people (1.0% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 94 sq. mi. (0.2% of land area); 10,319 people (0.1% of population)

Virginia is free and clear of drought, after two years where the state was parched. Virginia was abnormally dry in 2020, and in 2019, the governor declared a drought advisory across the entire state as a hot, dry fall scorched the region.

 

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#30. Mississippi

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 14,757 sq. mi. (30.9% of land area); 923,267 people (31.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 7,132 sq. mi. (14.9% of land area); 450,544 people (15.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 3,110 sq. mi. (6.5% of land area); 199,044 people (6.7% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,093 sq. mi. (2.3% of land area); 74,908 people (2.5% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 151 sq. mi. (0.3% of land area); 11,964 people (0.4% of population)

After a respite from widespread dryness, parts of Mississippi are experiencing conditions ranging from abnormal dryness to moderate drought. Other significant droughts have gripped the state in the past two decades. In 2016, the bulk of the eastern and central portion of the state were hit with an extreme drought. Burn bans were called throughout the state, power lines were strained, crop production suffered, and construction projects were halted.

 

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#29. Tennessee

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 13,100 sq. mi. (31.1% of land area); 2,006,810 people (31.6% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 6,920 sq. mi. (16.4% of land area); 1,072,999 people (16.9% of population)
--- Severe drought: 3,328 sq. mi. (7.9% of land area); 505,051 people (8.0% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,425 sq. mi. (3.4% of land area); 216,625 people (3.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 445 sq. mi. (1.1% of land area); 68,152 people (1.1% of population)

A small percentage of Tennessee is exceptionally dry as of March 2021, creating problems with honey production and other areas of agriculture. In 2007, the state was ravaged by a devastating drought that lasted 116 weeks through 2009—at one point, more than 70% of the state was suffering from exceptional drought conditions. Residents were under strict water conservation orders, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crops were lost.

 

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#28. Missouri

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 22,264 sq. mi. (31.9% of land area); 1,835,512 people (30.6% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 10,948 sq. mi. (15.7% of land area); 886,968 people (14.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 3,964 sq. mi. (5.7% of land area); 294,314 people (4.9% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,078 sq. mi. (1.5% of land area); 75,282 people (1.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 98 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 7,703 people (0.1% of population)

As of March 2021, 6% of Missouri was dry, creating problems with crop planting and growth. But from 2000 to 2010, rising temperatures caused an epic drought that depleted the Missouri River—the longest river in the U.S.—to historic lows. Snowpack melt from the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the river, fell to levels so low that the mighty Missouri was lower and drier than it had been in 1,200 years.

 

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#27. Iowa

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 18,054 sq. mi. (32.1% of land area); 914,588 people (30.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 10,098 sq. mi. (17.9% of land area); 519,271 people (17.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,776 sq. mi. (8.5% of land area); 235,182 people (7.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,218 sq. mi. (2.2% of land area); 57,981 people (1.9% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 23 sq. mi.; 1,072 people

Iowa is currently facing conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. Farms are suffering as a result: Crop yields are low and there are commodity shortages. Between August 2011 and June 2014, the state suffered through nearly three years of drought for 151 weeks straight.

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#26. Arkansas

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 18,544 sq. mi. (34.9% of land area); 1,019,040 people (34.9% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 9,965 sq. mi. (18.7% of land area); 532,590 people (18.3% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,614 sq. mi. (8.7% of land area); 238,895 people (8.2% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,474 sq. mi. (2.8% of land area); 78,133 people (2.7% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 232 sq. mi. (0.4% of land area); 13,294 people (0.5% of population)

Extreme dry spells baked the state in the late 2000s and the early 2010s, but even that was insignificant to the drought of 1930–31. That historic event struck eight southern states, but none worse than Arkansas, where record low rainfall and record high temperatures piled onto the calamities of the 1929 stock market crash, the flood of 1927, and an outbreak of deadly tornadoes.

 

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#25. Minnesota

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 30,830 sq. mi. (36.5% of land area); 1,879,107 people (35.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 14,405 sq. mi. (17.1% of land area); 954,017 people (18.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 5,090 sq. mi. (6.0% of land area); 276,806 people (5.2% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 1,801 sq. mi. (2.1% of land area); 46,470 people (0.9% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

The entire state of Minnesota is abnormally dry, with more than 40% of the area facing moderate drought. Though the weather is good for construction, it’s challenging for agriculture and snow sports, and fire danger is higher.

 

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#24. Florida

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 20,921 sq. mi. (37.0% of land area); 6,477,461 people (34.9% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 11,405 sq. mi. (20.2% of land area); 3,420,760 people (18.4% of population)
--- Severe drought: 5,913 sq. mi. (10.5% of land area); 1,767,055 people (9.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 2,324 sq. mi. (4.1% of land area); 703,403 people (3.8% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 518 sq. mi. (0.9% of land area); 162,806 people (0.9% of population)

More than 43.1% of Florida is currently abnormally dry, with a higher risk of brush fires. But this is an improvement over 2020: Virtually all of the state was classified as being in moderate drought conditions in April 2020. By the first week of July 2020, however, Florida was out of the woods and only a tiny sliver of the Sunshine State was experiencing abnormally dry conditions.

 

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#23. Louisiana

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 17,504 sq. mi. (37.3% of land area); 1,672,461 people (36.9% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 8,721 sq. mi. (18.6% of land area); 827,764 people (18.3% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,517 sq. mi. (9.6% of land area); 409,412 people (9.0% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 2,026 sq. mi. (4.3% of land area); 198,914 people (4.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 542 sq. mi. (1.2% of land area); 52,486 people (1.2% of population)

A significant part of Louisiana is facing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions, increasing fire dangers and inspiring farmers to dial back crop planting. But this is an improvement over 2020, when worsening drought crept across the South—conditions were already severe in some parts of the state.

 

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#22. North Carolina

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 18,963 sq. mi. (38.5% of land area); 3,940,196 people (41.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 9,794 sq. mi. (19.9% of land area); 2,072,329 people (21.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,837 sq. mi. (9.8% of land area); 1,029,003 people (10.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 2,182 sq. mi. (4.4% of land area); 498,284 people (5.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 700 sq. mi. (1.4% of land area); 182,254 people (1.9% of population)

North Carolina is faring better than many states this year, with no areas experiencing drought. But with the exception of a brief reprieve between 2003 and 2004, the 2000s were not kind to North Carolina when it came to rainfall. The century opened with a drought that lasted 155 weeks between the very start of 2000 and the very end of 2002, where conditions were severe, extreme, or exceptional. Things only got worse in the second half of the decade. At the height of the drought in 2007, more than 66% of North Carolina was experiencing exceptional drought.

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#21. Alabama

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 20,559 sq. mi. (39.8% of land area); 1,872,214 people (39.2% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 11,840 sq. mi. (22.9% of land area); 1,095,194 people (22.9% of population)
--- Severe drought: 6,790 sq. mi. (13.2% of land area); 644,111 people (13.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 3,502 sq. mi. (6.8% of land area); 348,065 people (7.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,482 sq. mi. (2.9% of land area); 165,410 people (3.5% of population)

In 2008, much of Alabama was under emergency drought status as conditions were so hot and dry that soybean shells shattered in fields, and Birmingham was chasing the all-time record of 52 days without rainfall, in what was called a once in a 50- to 100-year event. It was just one part of a brutal succession of droughts that devastated the state in the past 20 years. At its most severe, nearly 78% of Alabama land was under exceptional drought conditions.

 

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#20. Washington

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 27,990 sq. mi. (41.5% of land area); 2,189,948 people (33.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 13,270 sq. mi. (19.7% of land area); 995,062 people (15.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 5,582 sq. mi. (8.3% of land area); 318,440 people (4.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 852 sq. mi. (1.3% of land area); 44,938 people (0.7% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: zero sq. mi.; no people

Washington is again facing fire danger, with more than 26% of the state abnormally dry, and other parts seeing drought levels that are moderate to severe. In summer of 2020, Washington officials issued red flag warnings for vulnerable areas, with virtually all of the central portion of the state experiencing dangerously dry conditions. The state of Washington experienced 116 weeks of drought from 2014 to 2016.

 

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#19. North Dakota

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 30,897 sq. mi. (43.7% of land area); 271,556 people (40.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 13,823 sq. mi. (19.5% of land area); 108,753 people (16.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,970 sq. mi. (7.0% of land area); 35,710 people (5.3% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 784 sq. mi. (1.1% of land area); 5,272 people (0.8% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 28 sq. mi.; 219 people

In the 21st century, drought—or at least abnormally dry conditions—has been the rule, not the exception in North Dakota. By the summer of 2019, the northern part of the state was in its third year of a drought that ruined wide sections of grasslands that ranchers rely on to graze cattle. Today, it’s no longer relegated to the North, as 100% of North Dakota is suffering from abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought, 80% is experiencing severe drought, and 16.9% is dealing with extreme drought.

 

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#18. South Dakota

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 35,071 sq. mi. (45.5% of land area); 325,158 people (40.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 20,043 sq. mi. (26.0% of land area); 174,834 people (21.9% of population)
--- Severe drought: 10,124 sq. mi. (13.1% of land area); 84,710 people (10.6% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 3,609 sq. mi. (4.7% of land area); 33,679 people (4.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 728 sq. mi. (0.9% of land area); 6,807 people (0.9% of population)

South Dakota was mired in drought for nearly all of the 2010s, with severe, extreme, and even exceptional drought dominating much of the decade. That was followed by a massive spike in droughts in the early 2010s—at its peak in 2012, nearly one-third of South Dakota was suffering exceptional drought. It was so dry for so long, in fact, that despite record-breaking precipitation through 2020, 100% of the state is currently abnormally dry, and significant portions are in moderate or severe drought.

 

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#17. Oklahoma

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 33,575 sq. mi. (48.0% of land area); 1,655,195 people (44.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 21,650 sq. mi. (31.0% of land area); 983,144 people (26.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 13,072 sq. mi. (18.7% of land area); 540,002 people (14.4% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 6,697 sq. mi. (9.6% of land area); 236,888 people (6.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 2,295 sq. mi. (3.3% of land area); 60,367 people (1.6% of population)

Drought—frequently extreme or exceptional in nature—devastated Oklahoma for an uninterrupted 239 weeks from 2010–2015, with nearly 70% of state land baking under exceptional drought conditions at its peak in 2011. After a very brief reprieve, drought conditions returned to the state, where 48.1% of Oklahoma is now abnormally dry, with moderate to severe drought conditions across a large chunk of real estate.

You may also like: How climate change has affected each state

 

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#16. South Carolina

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 14,928 sq. mi. (48.3% of land area); 2,135,611 people (47.9% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 8,411 sq. mi. (27.2% of land area); 1,239,966 people (27.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 4,407 sq. mi. (14.3% of land area); 674,393 people (15.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 2,085 sq. mi. (6.7% of land area); 315,781 people (7.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 375 sq. mi. (1.2% of land area); 71,201 people (1.6% of population)

In 2019, 75% of South Carolina was struggling with drought conditions of varying degrees. Today, however, the entirety of the state is completely free of drought or even of abnormally dry conditions.

 

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#15. Kansas

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 40,193 sq. mi. (48.8% of land area); 1,181,016 people (41.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 24,027 sq. mi. (29.2% of land area); 627,180 people (22.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 13,138 sq. mi. (16.0% of land area); 298,137 people (10.4% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 5,790 sq. mi. (7.0% of land area); 123,717 people (4.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,741 sq. mi. (2.1% of land area); 23,720 people (0.8% of population)

Just under half (45.1%) of Kansas is abnormally dry, with moderate to extreme drought conditions in parts of the state ramping up fire danger and creating headaches for farmers. In summer of 2020, the governor of Kansas declared drought emergencies, watches, and warnings for 74 out of the state’s 105 counties. The worst-hit counties were allowed to request emergency water from state fishing lakes.

 

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#14. Georgia

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 29,023 sq. mi. (49.4% of land area); 4,792,809 people (49.5% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 19,307 sq. mi. (32.8% of land area); 3,329,018 people (34.4% of population)
--- Severe drought: 11,806 sq. mi. (20.1% of land area); 2,138,996 people (22.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 5,776 sq. mi. (9.8% of land area); 999,275 people (10.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,490 sq. mi. (2.5% of land area); 262,004 people (2.7% of population)

Like most of its regional neighbors in the South, Georgia is enjoying a spell where most of the state is free of abnormally dry or drought conditions. At one point during a long drought that lasted from 2006–2008, however, about half the state was classified as experiencing exceptional drought. Other long and destructive droughts plagued the state for much of the 2010s.

 

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#13. Nebraska

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 38,455 sq. mi. (49.7% of land area); 802,791 people (44.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 24,258 sq. mi. (31.4% of land area); 460,211 people (25.2% of population)
--- Severe drought: 15,026 sq. mi. (19.4% of land area); 242,416 people (13.3% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 7,321 sq. mi. (9.5% of land area); 95,386 people (5.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 2,107 sq. mi. (2.7% of land area); 16,817 people (0.9% of population)

Almost 80% of Nebraska is especially dry, creating problems for agriculture and wildlife. In 2020, Nebraska’s Aroostook County experienced its hottest June in 100 years, and Nebraskans endured an uninterrupted drought for 348 weeks between 2002 and 2008. A few years later in 2012, a drought struck that was so severe that at one point, more than three-quarters of the state was scorched in exceptional drought conditions.

 

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#12. Montana

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 74,545 sq. mi. (50.7% of land area); 514,251 people (52.0% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 48,183 sq. mi. (32.8% of land area); 337,194 people (34.1% of population)
--- Severe drought: 28,861 sq. mi. (19.6% of land area); 209,784 people (21.2% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 12,055 sq. mi. (8.2% of land area); 93,381 people (9.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,536 sq. mi. (1.0% of land area); 8,648 people (0.9% of population)

Around 96% of Montana is categorized as abnormally dry, and parts of the state are experiencing water shortages and crop problems due to more-severe drought. A seemingly endless drought roiled Montana for 307 weeks between 2000 and 2006, abated briefly, then continued on for the rest of the decade. Things got really bad, however, in 2017, when more than a quarter of the state’s land was suffering exceptional drought conditions.

You may also like: 20 safety preparations for the weather this summer

 

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#11. Texas

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 142,719 sq. mi. (53.8% of land area); 12,176,144 people (48.4% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 98,425 sq. mi. (37.1% of land area); 8,279,531 people (32.9% of population)
--- Severe drought: 59,434 sq. mi. (22.4% of land area); 4,717,171 people (18.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 28,778 sq. mi. (10.9% of land area); 2,214,296 people (8.8% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 10,827 sq. mi. (4.1% of land area); 883,828 people (3.5% of population)

Crops and livestock are facing tough times in Texas, where more than 90% of the state is abnormally dry, and significant portions are experiencing much more severe conditions. In 2011, an astonishing nearly 88% of Texas was suffering under exceptional drought conditions, the most dangerous classification. Drought has been a familiar part of life in Texas for generations—one of the worst droughts on record took place there in the 1950s. More recently, climatologists have been warning officials to prepare for future “megadroughts” that might last a decade or more in the Lone Star state.

 

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#10. Hawaii

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 3,634 sq. mi. (56.2% of land area); 654,961 people (48.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 1,885 sq. mi. (29.1% of land area); 232,846 people (17.1% of population)
--- Severe drought: 714 sq. mi. (11.0% of land area); 59,646 people (4.4% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 160 sq. mi. (2.5% of land area); 14,265 people (1.0% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 10 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 485 people

Recreation and agriculture are both being negatively affected by conditions in Hawaii, where 19.9% of the state is abnormally dry, and parts are faring worse. Over the last two decades, drought has cost the state millions of dollars, most notably in the ranching industry, which lost $44.5 million alone because of a lack of rainfall.

 

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#9. Oregon

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 56,367 sq. mi. (58.2% of land area); 1,576,674 people (41.2% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 36,642 sq. mi. (37.8% of land area); 840,939 people (22.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 20,434 sq. mi. (21.1% of land area); 400,583 people (10.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 6,480 sq. mi. (6.7% of land area); 66,961 people (1.7% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 109 sq. mi. (0.1% of land area); 287 people

As the final portion of this list reveals, the West suffered the worst ravages of drought in the country on average over 20 years, and continues to suffer the most today—and Oregon is no exception. Much of Oregon is suffering at least abnormally dry conditions (80.7%), with 67.3% seeing moderate drought, 44% experiencing severe drought, and 12.5% dealing with extreme drought. 

 

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#8. Idaho

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 49,028 sq. mi. (58.7% of land area); 952,433 people (60.8% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 31,561 sq. mi. (37.8% of land area); 606,262 people (38.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 17,740 sq. mi. (21.2% of land area); 309,847 people (19.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 6,253 sq. mi. (7.5% of land area); 99,131 people (6.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,139 sq. mi. (1.4% of land area); 18,262 people (1.2% of population)

More than 61% of Idaho is currently abnormally dry, creating issues with snowpack, water levels and crop yields. A drought pummeled the state for 258 weeks in the early 2000s, and 40.78% of the state experienced exceptional drought in December 2003.

 

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#7. Colorado

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 61,485 sq. mi. (59.0% of land area); 2,570,393 people (51.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 39,296 sq. mi. (37.7% of land area); 1,544,852 people (30.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 25,306 sq. mi. (24.3% of land area); 842,057 people (16.7% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 12,629 sq. mi. (12.1% of land area); 378,183 people (7.5% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 2,386 sq. mi. (2.3% of land area); 41,672 people (0.8% of population)

The entire state of Colorado is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with moderate, severe or extreme drought hitting more than half the region. Last June, Colorado officials created a drought task force as an already bad drought got worse.

You may also like: 30 global airports that could be flooded by 2100

 

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#6. Wyoming

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 57,793 sq. mi. (59.1% of land area); 316,234 people (56.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 39,211 sq. mi. (40.1% of land area); 212,658 people (37.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 26,523 sq. mi. (27.1% of land area); 142,587 people (25.3% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 12,705 sq. mi. (13.0% of land area); 68,166 people (12.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,778 sq. mi. (1.8% of land area); 9,667 people (1.7% of population)

Fishing and agriculture are just two areas experiencing the impact of drought in Wyoming, where almost 98% of the state is abnormally dry, and drought levels for the majority of regions are moderate to severe. Drought brutalized Wyoming during the 2000s for an uninterrupted 435 weeks between 2001 and 2009 before another major drought choked the state in the first years of the 2010s.

 

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#5. California

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 94,777 sq. mi. (59.9% of land area); 22,046,498 people (59.2% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 69,192 sq. mi. (43.8% of land area); 16,136,198 people (43.3% of population)
--- Severe drought: 43,277 sq. mi. (27.4% of land area); 10,373,130 people (27.8% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 19,815 sq. mi. (12.5% of land area); 5,259,607 people (14.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 7,993 sq. mi. (5.1% of land area); 2,480,621 people (6.7% of population)

With annual wildfires that make national news, California has unintentionally done more to highlight the dangers of dry weather than any other state in the U.S. Severe drought is currently gripping 58.6% of the state, which has gone to great lengths to prepare for what climate experts predict will be a mega-drought in the coming years. Officials have developed a drought early warning system and are working on a desalination program to prepare for water emergencies.

 

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#4. Utah

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 56,592 sq. mi. (66.7% of land area); 1,811,362 people (65.5% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 40,159 sq. mi. (47.3% of land area); 1,318,041 people (47.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 23,392 sq. mi. (27.6% of land area); 666,671 people (24.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 10,634 sq. mi. (12.5% of land area); 233,483 people (8.4% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 1,857 sq. mi. (2.2% of land area); 40,947 people (1.5% of population)

Cattle and crops are struggling in Utah. A full 100% of the state is abnormally dry or facing moderate drought, with more than 90% facing severe or extreme drought. More than half of the state, 57.2%, is experiencing exceptional drought.

 

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#3. New Mexico

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 84,806 sq. mi. (69.8% of land area); 1,455,107 people (70.7% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 59,647 sq. mi. (49.1% of land area); 982,435 people (47.7% of population)
--- Severe drought: 37,763 sq. mi. (31.1% of land area); 628,360 people (30.5% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 17,850 sq. mi. (14.7% of land area); 290,019 people (14.1% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 4,918 sq. mi. (4.0% of land area); 76,350 people (3.7% of population)

A view of the New Mexico drought map shows wide swaths of orange, red and brown, indicating moderate to exceptional drought. The water authority in Albuquerque is advising people how to deal with the current scenario, where precipitation is estimated at 30% less than the usual winter.

 

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#2. Nevada

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 78,717 sq. mi. (71.2% of land area); 1,942,485 people (71.9% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 60,051 sq. mi. (54.3% of land area); 1,399,983 people (51.8% of population)
--- Severe drought: 37,708 sq. mi. (34.1% of land area); 799,731 people (29.6% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 15,185 sq. mi. (13.7% of land area); 278,769 people (10.3% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 2,004 sq. mi. (1.8% of land area); 50,459 people (1.9% of population)

Snowpack is down, forage is down, and fire danger is higher due to drought conditions in Nevada. Three extended and major droughts battered Nevada over the last two decades alone, and officials there have taken action. Out of pure necessity, the Nevada Water Science Center has been developing new techniques to measure, manage, and monitor water supplies to prepare for a parched future.

 

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#1. Arizona

- Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 87,702 sq. mi. (76.9% of land area); 4,867,057 people (76.1% of population)
--- Moderate drought: 64,563 sq. mi. (56.6% of land area); 3,644,322 people (57.0% of population)
--- Severe drought: 38,251 sq. mi. (33.5% of land area); 2,049,987 people (32.1% of population)
--- Extreme drought: 15,949 sq. mi. (14.0% of land area); 780,806 people (12.2% of population)
--- Exceptional drought: 2,642 sq. mi. (2.3% of land area); 63,034 people (1.0% of population)

Arizona is a southwestern state that spent much of the last 20 years in a near-constant drought, and the numbers aren’t much better this year. The state is taking significant steps—including recycling wastewater and banking water underground in reservoirs—to prepare for a future without access to what has long been its lifeblood: water from the Colorado River.

You may also like: Fastest-warming cities in the U.S.

 

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