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Regional Drought Update Date
November 7, 2023
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Southeast

DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future Drought Status Updates as conditions evolve.

Drought has steadily expanded and intensified across the Southeast with impacts to soils, agriculture, fire risk, and water resources. 

Dry conditions are expected to persist for much of early November, with some relief by late-November. Drought is anticipated to improve as we transition into an El Niño winter, which typically brings wetter-than-normal conditions.

Key Points

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought is currently impacting slightly over 50%  of the Southeast region, with the most intense drought found in the western portions of the region in Tennessee, Alabama, northwest Georgia, and the Panhandle of Florida. 95% of Alabama is currently in drought, with 29% in Extreme Drought (D3). 92% of Tennessee is currently in drought, with 41% in Extreme Drought (D3) . Drought conditions have also worsened in Virginia and the Carolinas, primarily in the Mountain regions but are now expanding over the Piedmont and starting to appear along the coast.  Florida’s long-term drought along the western peninsula continues to persist.
  • Drought conditions are quickly expanding, with all states experiencing at least a 2-class degradation in U.S. Drought Monitor classification over the past month (Figure 1) and many locations experiencing some of the driest falls on record (Figure 2). In southern Tennessee, for example, Extreme Drought (D3) increased by 33% last week alone. These rapid-onset (“flash”) fall droughts in the Southeast resemble what was observed in 2016, 2019, and 2022. 
  • Despite isolated precipitation events and Hurricane Ophelia in September, this steady dryness has led to a notable loss of soil moisture (Figure 3), which is impacting crop yields, pond levels, winter planting, forage quantity and quality, and resulting in supplemental livestock feeding. USDA has announced  ‘Drought Disaster Declarations’ for many counties in Northern Alabama. Fire risk in November continues to increase (Figure 4) during this fall wildfire season with fire danger elevated and burn bans in effect for many locationsThere are many areas experiencing declining levels of streamflows (Figure 5and reservoirs, resulting in some voluntary water restrictions. 
  • While drought is anticipated to expand in November, especially in northern Georgia and western North Carolina (Figure 6), near-term forecasts indicate that some relief may be on the way this weekend,  especially to Tennessee and northern Mississippi (Figure 7). While November is typically the driest month of the year for much of the Southeast, seasonal models indicate an increased likelihood of above-normal precipitation in much of the region (Figure 8), this winter due to an expected strong El Niño pattern that typically brings increased winter precipitation to the Southeast. (Figure 9). Learn more about what this El Niño means during this November 28 webinar.
  • Potential near-term impacts of persistent drought include the continuation of low water levels on major rivers and tributaries. However, river levels typically rebound in the winter due to seasonal and climatological trends. 
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Southeast | October 31, 2023

U.S. Drought Monitor

Main Stats
of the Southeast is in drought (D1–D4)
of Alabama is in drought (D1–D4)
of Tennessee is in drought (D1–D4)

Report and View Local Impacts

As conditions evolve, accurate reports on conditions and drought impacts are critical. Whether your area is currently wet, close to normal, or dry, please consider reporting conditions and any drought impacts you see or hear via the Condition Monitoring Observer Reports (CMOR) from the National Drought Mitigation Center. If you are already a CoCoRaHS observer, we encourage you to submit a Condition Monitoring Report. You can also view local drought impact information through the above. 

Report Impacts

Current Conditions and Drought Impacts

Current Conditions

Overall, conditions were largely drier-than-normal since the summer across a majority of the region (Figure 1) and continued to degrade across the region, except where isolated precipitation events occurred, such as recent rainfall across Northwest Tennessee.

Drought has quickly intensified over the last month, particularly in Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Figure 1. Source: Change in U.S. Drought Monitor drought classifications over a four-week period of October 3 - 31, 2023. National Drought Mitigation Center.
 Across much of the western half of the Southeast region and parts of Virginia, mean precipitation has been among the top 10 driest for September 5 to November 5.
Figure 2. Rankings of mean precipitation from September 5–November 5, 2023 across the Southeast region. Locations in brown hues indicate precipitation totals that rank among the top 10 driest on record for this period. Source: NOAA's Southeast Regional Climate Center.
Across much of the Southeast, soil moisture is below normal, and parts of every state have soil moisture in the bottom 5th percentile.
Figure 3. This NASA SPoRT-LIS soil moisture map shows the moisture content of the top 100 cm of soil compared to historical conditions (1981–2013), based on the Noah unified land surface model. Red and orange hues indicate drier soils, while greens and blues indicate greater soil moisture. Source: NASA.
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama along with parts of the Florida panhandle, eastern Georgia, and southern Tennessee show a Keetch Byram Drought Index of over 400. Areas with a higher index value have a higher likelihood of large and difficult to contain wildfires.
Figure 4. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) assesses the likelihood of wildfires becoming large and difficult to contain by representing cumulative deficits in soil moisture. The KBDI attempts to measure the amount of precipitation necessary to return the soil to full field capacity. The index ranges from 0, the point of saturation (no moisture deficiency), to 800, the maximum dryness that is possible. The KBDI value indicates the amount of net rainfall (in hundredths of inches) required to reduce the index to zero, or saturation. Source(s): North Carolina State Climate Office.
Streams throughout the Southeast are flowing below to much below normal compared to historical conditions.
Figure 5. This map shows current streamflow conditions at U.S. Geological Survey streamgages, compared to historical conditions for the same day of the year. Source(s): U.S. Geological Survey


Outlooks & Forecasts

The western portion of the Southeast is expected to see up to an inch of precipitation in the next week. The eastern portion of the region, except for Florida and southeast Georgia, are expected to see up to 0.25 inches over the next week.
Figure 6. The Quantitative Precipitation Forecast shows the amount of liquid precipitation (inches) expected to fall over the next 7 days. Source: National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center.
In November, drought is expected to persist in the areas where it is already present and expand in western Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and in Tennessee and Alabama.
Figure 7. The Monthly Drought Outlook predicts whether drought will develop, remain, improve, or be removed in the next calendar month. Source: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.
From November to January, odds favor above-normal precipitation across most of the Southeast, with equal chances of above- or below-normal conditions in Tennessee and western Virginia.
Figure 8. Seasonal precipitation outlook showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal precipitation (green hues), below-normal precipitation (brown hues), or equal chances of above- or below-normal conditions (white). Source: National Weather Service


  There is a strong tilt for winter precipitation to be 4+ inches above normal across southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, as well as all of Florida.
Figure 9. A composite of precipitation anomalies (inches) for the December- March time frame, using the four previous strongest El Niño events (1965-66, 1982-83, 1997-98, 2015-16) versus the 1991-2020 long-term average. This  El Niño is forecast to be one of the 5 strongest on record since 1950.  There is a strong tilt for winter precipitation to be 4”+ above normal across southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, as well as all of Florida. The tilt towards wetness diminishes rapidly as you move north, with near-normal precipitation observed across Tennessee. Note the similarities to the CPC forecast shown in Figure 9. Source: NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory.

For More Information

NIDIS and its partners will issue future updates as conditions evolve.

Upcoming Informational Webinars

Upcoming informational webinars related to drought in the Southern and Southeast U.S.:

  • Impacts and Perspectives on the 2023 Southern US Drought and Heat will include the current lower Mississippi River drought. November 8, 12 - 1 p.m. CT. Learn more and register. 
  • The Southeast Monthly Climate Webinar will include a special presentation on the current El Niño and a Winter Outlook for the Southeast.  November 28, 10 - 11 a.m.  ET. Learn more and register.
  • Special ACF and ACT Basin Drought Webinar. This webinar will discuss the current drought conditions and impacts in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin. November 15, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET/10-11 a.m. CT. Register here.

Local Resources

More local information is available from the following resources.

Additional local, state, and regional information:

Prepared By

Meredith Muth
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

Special Thanks

This Drought Status Update is issued to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Southeast U.S. based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future Drought Status Updates as conditions evolve.