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Regional Drought Update Date
October 25, 2022
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Midwest and Missouri River Basin


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future Midwest and Missouri River Basin drought status updates as conditions evolve.

Drought Has Recently Expanded and Intensified and Is Expected to Persist.

This drought status update is based on information provided during the October 20, 2022 North Central U.S. Climate and Drought Outlook Webinar. View the webinar for more details.

Key Points

  • Drought has rapidly intensified and expanded across the north central U.S. over the last month. Currently, 60% of the region is in moderate to exceptional drought (D1–D4) according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with 30% in severe drought or worse (D2–D4). Exceptional drought (D4) is affecting 30% of Kansas and 12% of Nebraska, as well as small portions of Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota.
  • While the recent rapid intensification of drought has been most prominent across the Midwest, drought has been persistent and more severe across the Missouri River Basin/Great Plains. Some areas within the Missouri River Basin are entering their second or third year of drought. 
  • Impacts from the drought have also recently intensified. Most notably, below-normal streamflow is a major issue, including record low levels on the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers. River navigation and transportation of goods has been greatly inhibited and restricted. Industry sources estimate that the current volume of goods on the waterway is effectively 45% lower than usual since ships and barges cannot carry as much in low water. 
  • Other major impacts include extremely dry soils for winter crops and a lack of fall soil moisture recharge, very poor pasture and rangeland conditions, fires, and limited surface and groundwater for municipal and individual water supply and livestock. 
  • While there is a chance for some precipitation relief in late October into early November, the current drought situation will require multiple rounds of significant precipitation in order to see significant recovery. 
  • Fall is a very important season for replenishing soil moisture in order to secure moisture that is needed for the upcoming growing season. If fall moisture is not replenished, the risk for drought continuing is increased for the next growing season, as improvements to soil moisture are limited over the winter, particularly in northern areas where soils are mostly frozen.
  • A potential issue this winter could be that dry soils and cold temperatures lead to deeper frost depths, which could cause issues with buried infrastructure and pipelines (e.g., water main breaks and the potential for frozen water lines). 

Report Your Drought Impacts

Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: North Central U.S. | October 18, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the north central U.S. with data valid for October 18, 2022. The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. Drought categories show experts’ assessments of conditions related to dryness and drought including observations of how much water is available in streams, lakes, and soils compared to usual for the same time of year. 

U.S. Drought Monitor Categories
Value Map Hex Color
D0 - Abnormally Dry #ffff00
D1 - Moderate Drought #ffcc99
D2 - Severe Drought #ff6600
D3 - Extreme Drought #ff0000
D4 - Exceptional Drought #660000
Main Stats
60%
of the north central U.S. is in drought (D1–D4)
26%
more of the region is in drought than 3 months ago
86%
of the north central U.S. is abnormally dry (D0) or worse

Current Conditions and Impacts

Current Conditions

  • Drought has rapidly intensified and expanded across the north central U.S. over the last month. Currently, 60% of the region is in moderate to exceptional drought (D1–D4) according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with 30% in severe drought or worse (D2–D4). 86% of the region is considered abnormally dry (D0).
  • Over the last four weeks, many areas, particularly across the Midwest, have worsened by at least one drought category on the U.S. Drought Monitor and in some areas by two to three categories (Figure 1). Drought has intensified most rapidly across southern Missouri, Kentucky, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and northern Iowa.
  • While the recent rapid intensification of drought has been most prominent across the Midwest, severe drought has persisted for up to two years across portions of the Missouri River Basin/Great Plains. The worst level of drought, exceptional drought (D4), is most extensive across Kansas and Nebraska (30% and 12% respectively), but is also impacting small portions of Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota. Impacts from the drought have accelerated recently (see Impacts section below), some due to the underlying long-term dryness.
  • The rapid intensification of drought has primarily been driven by a lack of precipitation over the last 30 days, with a majority of the north central U.S. only receiving 5%–50% of normal precipitation. Portions of the Plains and the Ohio River Basin have received less than 5% of normal precipitation (Figure 2). Only a few areas have received above-normal precipitation, including portions of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, as well as portions of Michigan.
  • Temperatures over the last 30 days have been near to below normal across much of the north central U.S. (Figure 3). Some areas in the far east have been 4 to 6 degrees below normal. Moving further west, much of the western Missouri River Basin has had above-normal temperatures.

Figure 1. 4-Week Change Map for the U.S. Drought Monitor

In the 4 weeks since September 20, part of every state in the north central U.S. has seen a 1- to 3-category drought degradation. Wyoming has seen the most improvement during this period.
4-week change map for the U.S. Drought Monitor, showing where drought has improved (green to blue), is unchanged (gray), or worsened (yellow to brown) since September 20, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Figure 2. 30-Day Percent of Normal Precipitation (September 24–October 23, 2022)

From September 24 to October 23, most of the north central U.S. had below-normal precipitation, with many areas below 25% of normal.
Percent of normal precipitation across the north central U.S. for September 24–October 23, 2022, compared to the 1991–2020 historical average for the same time period. The orange to deep red color indicates areas that were below normal for the time period, whereas green to purple areas were above normal. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center ACIS Climate Maps.

Figure 3. 30-Day Departure from Normal Temperature (°F) (September 24–October 23, 2022)

From September 24 to October 23, most of the Midwest had below-normal temperatures, with above-normal temperatures across the Missouri River Basin.
The departure from normal temperature (°F) across the north central U.S. from September 24–October 23, 2022, compared to the 1991–2020 historical average for the same time period.  The orange to red colors indicate areas that were above normal for the time period, yellow and light green are near normal, and darker green to purple are below normal. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center ACIS Climate Maps.

Drought Impacts

  • Below-normal streamflow is one of the most critical impacts the drought is currently having on the region (Figure 4), including record low levels on major U.S. riverway systems for navigation—the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers (Figure 5). Low water records from significant droughts in the past (1988, 2000, and 2012) have recently been broken.
  • River levels are typically lower in the fall, but this year they are even lower than normal, which is causing significant issues as fall harvest is well underway and over 60% of all grain shipped in the U.S. moves through New Orleans, LA off the Mississippi River. When river levels are below normal, ships and barges are not able to transport as much due to the risk of grounding or dragging on the bottom of the river. Industry sources estimate that the current volume of goods on the waterway is effectively 45% lower than usual since ships and barges cannot carry as much in low water. 
  • The newly-established river cruise industry on the Mississippi River is having to make adjustments to their cruises based on the low water levels. Cruises have had to be rerouted to different cities/ports, companies are having to offer free cancellations or future cruise credits, and in some cases, the cruises have been canceled. 
  • As drought conditions continue to impact the Missouri River Basin, total system storage is much below average. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are adjusting the release of water at Gavins Point to meet the current service level.
  • While there aren’t too many reports of municipal water supply issues, some communities are making adjustments to their water supply source as a result of limited water. Cairo, Illinois has temporarily switched from Mississippi River water to their alternative groundwater source. There are also reports of wells drying in areas like Iowa and Nebraska.
  • Surface water is limited in many areas as well, including stock ponds across pastures and rangeland, in addition to low lake levels, which are impacting fish and wildlife. Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota is at its lowest in 30 years. Minnehaha Falls, a well-known landmark in the Twin Cities, is dry.
  • As expected, soil moisture values reflect the extremely dry conditions across the north central U.S., particularly in the Midwest states (Figure 6). Fall is a very important season for replenishing soil moisture for the next growing season. If fall moisture is not replenished, the risk for drought continuing is increased for the next growing season, as improvements to soil moisture are limited over the winter, particularly to the north where soils are mostly frozen. Southern and eastern portions of the region might be able to see more recovery over winter with warmer soils.
  • The dry conditions this fall have aided harvest, as farmers have had many days in a row suitable for field work. However, the drying has happened almost too quickly in some areas and has led to issues like shattering of soybeans and increased fire risk and occurrence. 
  • Winter wheat is being planted in very dry soils across states like Kansas and Indiana, which is limiting the emergence of the crop. While winter wheat does not need much moisture to establish itself in order to survive the winter, it does need some moisture, and areas that have planted winter wheat currently need rain. 
  • Across the Great Plains, pasture and rangeland is reported to be in poor to very poor condition. 82% is rated as poor to very poor in Nebraska, 79% in Kansas, 68% in Missouri, and 63% in South Dakota (Figure 7).
  • Fire risk has been and continues to be high this fall. There have been many fires resulting from harvest activities (e.g., combine fires) and dry vegetation. Burn bans are in effect across many counties in several states.

Report your drought impacts through the Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR):

Submit Local Drought Impacts

Figure 4. USGS 28-Day Average Streamflow for October 23, 2022 (Compared to Historical Record)

Below-normal streamflow is one of the most critical impacts the drought is currently having on the north central U.S.
28-day average streamflow below normal compared to the historical conditions for October 23, 2022. Areas in red are in extreme hydrological drought, dark red is in severe hydrologic drought, orange is moderate hydrologic drought, and yellow is below normal. Source: USGS WaterWatch.

Figure 5. Map of Record Low 7-Day Streamflow – Valid on October 23, 2022

Major U.S. riverway systems for navigation, including the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers, are experiencing record low 7-day streamflow.
Record low 7-day average streamflow as of October 23, 2022. Red triangles show stations that have hit their record low with more than 30 years of data, dark red triangles show stations that have hit record low with less than 30 years of data. Yellow circles show sites that have zero flow. Source: USGS WaterWatch.

Figure 6. Topsoil Moisture (Percent Rated Short to Very Short)  – Week ending October 23, 2022

For the week ending October 23, 2022, 68% of topsoil moisture in the contiguous U.S. is rated short to very short.
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) topsoil moisture report of soils rated “short to very short” for the week ending October 23, 2022 by state. The number on top represents the current condition, with the change from last week in the brackets below. Source: USDA.

Figure 7. Pasture and Range Conditions (Rated Poor to Very Poor) – As of October 23, 2022

For the week ending October 23, 2022 , 49% of pasture and range conditions in the lower 48 states are rated poor to very poor.
Pasture and range conditions rated as in poor to very poor condition across the United States for the week ending October 23, 2022. The number on top represents the current condition, with the change from last year in the brackets below. Source: USDA.

Outlook and Potential Impacts

  • Based on the precipitation forecast for the next week (October 25–November 1), it is possible that portions of the Midwest, including Missouri, might see some precipitation (Figure 8). 
  • This possibility for some short-term relief continues through November 7, where the 8–14 day outlook shows the possibility for above-normal precipitation across much of the Midwest and into the Missouri River Basin (Figure 9). Short-term precipitation relief will be beneficial for some river level recovery from record lows for navigation, and cover crops and winter wheat to establish growth before the winter. 
  • However, when looking at the entire month of November, much of the southern portion of the central U.S. (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois) has greater chances for below-normal precipitation. Areas to the north have equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation for November (Figure 10). 
  • Above-normal temperatures are more likely in November across the Central Plains into Missouri and South Dakota, while other areas have equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal November temperatures (Figure 11).
  • The potential for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation has elevated the risk for wildland fire across portions of the Plains, Iowa, and Missouri (Figure 12). Fire will continue to be a risk for the dry areas of the north central U.S. throughout the fall.
  • Without substantial precipitation in November, it is unlikely that river levels will return to normal for this time of year in the near future, leading to continued issues with navigation along major navigational rivers like the Mississippi River.
  • NOAA recently issued the winter outlook for December 2022 to February 2023. In the north central U.S., there is a greater chance for below-normal precipitation to continue across extreme southern portions of the region (Kansas), equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation across much of the region, with the possibility for above-normal precipitation across the Great Lakes region (Figure 13). 
  • While winter could bring some more precipitation to the region, it is unlikely there will be substantial improvements to drought as this is a difficult time of the year to establish soil moisture due to frozen grounds, particularly in the north. 
  • Another potential issue this winter could be that dry soils and cold temperatures lead to deeper frost depths, which could cause issues with buried infrastructure and pipelines (e.g., water main breaks and the potential for frozen water lines).

Figure 8. Quantitative Precipitation Forecast for the next 7 days (October 25–November 1, 2022)

From October 25 to November 1, the National Weather Service forecasts some precipitation across parts of the Midwest (including Missouri).
7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast, which shows the possibility for total precipitation accumulation (inches) from October 25–November 1, 2022. Source: NOAA National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center.

Figure 9. 8–14 Day Precipitation Outlook (Valid November 1–7, 2022)

Through November 7, odds favor above-normal precipitation across much of the Midwest and into the Missouri River Basin.
8–14 day precipitation outlook for November 1–7, 2022. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation, gray areas represent near-normal precipitation, and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center

Figure 10. Monthly Precipitation Outlook for November 2022

Much of the southern portion of the central U.S. (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois) has greater chances for below-normal precipitation in November 2022.
Monthly precipitation outlook for November 2022. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation; white areas represent equal chances for either above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation; and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 11. Monthly Temperature Outlook for November 2022

The November 2022 temperature outlook favors above-normal temperatures across the Central Plains into Missouri and South Dakota, with equal chances elsewhere.
Monthly temperature outlook for November 2022. The red shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal temperatures; white areas represent equal chances for either above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures; and blue shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal temperatures. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 12. Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for October 2022

In October 2022, there is increased risk for wildland fire across portions of the Plains, Iowa, and Missouri.
The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for October 2022. Above-normal significant wildfire potential (red) indicates a greater than usual likelihood that significant wildland fires will occur. These assessments are designed to inform decision makers for proactive wildland fire management, thus better protecting lives and property, reducing firefighting costs and improving firefighting efficiency. Source: Predictive Services, National Interagency Fire Center.

Figure 13. Winter Precipitation Outlook (December 2022–February 2023)

From December 2022 to February 2023, there is a greater chance for below-normal precipitation to continue across extreme southern portions of the region (Kansas) and above-normal precipitation across the Great Lakes Region.
The winter precipitation outlook for December 2022–February 2023 from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation, white areas represent equal chances for either above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation, and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, via Climate.gov

For More Information

Prepared By

Molly Woloszyn
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), CIRES/University of Colorado Boulder

Laura Edwards
South Dakota State University Extension

Brad Rippey
USDA Office of the Chief Economist

Doug Kluck
NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

Dennis Todey
USDA Midwest Climate Hub

Special Thanks

This drought status update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Midwest U.S. based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.