Drought in the Western United States

The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) categorizes drought—with a scale from D0 (Abnormally Dry) to D4 (Exceptional Drought)—according to soil moisture, streamflow, and precipitation levels. Regional designations can vary and are primarily based on historical weather patterns.

Drought can adversely affect many aspects of the U.S. agricultural sector. In regions that rely on rainfall for agricultural production, drought can diminish crop and livestock outputs and may severely affect farm profitability. Drought also reduces the quantity of snowpack and streamflow available for diversions to irrigated agricultural land. These impacts can reverberate throughout the local, regional, and national economies. Locally, droughts can reduce farm income and negatively impact food processing and agricultural service sectors, while food prices may increase at the regional and the national levels.

As of April 4, 2023, drought conditions have improved across much of the western United States compared to 2021 and 2022. (The 17 western States are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.) Conditions were most severe in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon. According to USDM, on April 04, 2023, 12 percent of land in western states was classified as experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, with an additional 20 percent classified as severe. Data reported by USDM demonstrate the incidence of drought in the western United States during the summer of 2021 exceeded all past droughts in the region since 2000. Drought conditions in the western United States gradually subsided between October and December of 2021 and began intensifying again during the first half of 2022. Significant precipitation over the 2022–23 winter has reduced the prevalence of drought in many western states.

Drought conditions in the western United States have important implications for the agricultural sector. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), as of April 4, 2023, approximately 12 percent of alfalfa hay acreage in the United States was experiencing severe, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions. This number is a decline from the peak of drought conditions in August of 2021 when 52 percent of alfalfa hay acreage was affected by severe or worse drought conditions. The historically severe drought conditions in the western United States during the summer of 2021 were significant for the broader agricultural sector. For example, alfalfa hay is an important input for livestock and dairy operations and much of its production affecting alfalfa hay acreage have the potential to reduce yields, which may influence feed and consumer prices.

Please visit the National Integrated Drought Information System's Agriculture Sector webpage for a map of the latest U.S. areas experiencing drought and the agricultural activity in those areas.

USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) Drought-Related Resources


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