Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Regional Drought Update Date
May 27, 2021
Site Section
Drought Status Update

Drought Update for the Intermountain West


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

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

Another hot and dry summer ahead.

Key Points

  • Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) drought continues across the Intermountain West.
  • Drought conditions improve over eastern Colorado and central Wyoming, but remain or worsen for the rest of the region.
  • June (1 month) and summer (3-month) outlooks show that above-normal temperatures for all of the the Intermountain West are most likely.
  • Below-normal summer precipitation is expected for Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Intermountain West | May 25, 2021

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System region with data valid for May 25, 2021. The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country.

Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) drought persists across much of the Intermountain West:

  • Arizona (87% of the state)
  • Colorado (29%)
  • New Mexico (75%)
  • Utah (90%)
  • Wyoming (2%)

U.S. Drought Monitor Categories

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #f5ad3d identifies:
D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4 - Exceptional Drought
Main Stats
87%
of Arizona is in Extreme to Exceptional (D3–D4) Drought
29%
of Colorado is in Extreme to Exceptional (D3–D4) Drought
75%
of New Mexico is in Extreme to Exceptional (D3–D4) Drought
90%
of Utah is in Extreme to Exceptional (D3–D4) Drought
2%
of Wyoming is in Extreme to Exceptional (D3–D4) Drought

Recent and Current Conditions

U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions

  • Over half (57%) of the combined Intermountain West region is in Extreme (D3) to Exceptional (D4) drought.
    • Extreme (D3) drought conditions have been in place in this region since May 2020.
    • The extent of D4 drought in the Intermountain West reached a peak of 45% area in December 2020, a new record for the region.
  • Moderate (D1) or worse drought has been in the region since August 2009.

U.S. Drought Monitor 1-Month Change Map

  • Colorado and central Wyoming have seen a 1- to 3-category drought improvement over 1 month due to rainfall in early May.
  • Drought conditions have remained or deteriorated across the rest of the region.
1-month U.S. Drought Monitor Change Map for the Intermountain West, showing the change in drought categories from April 27 to May 25, 2021. Colorado and central Wyoming have seen a 1- to 3-category improvement.
1-month U.S. Drought Monitor change map, showing where drought has improved, remained the same, or worsened from April 27 to May 25, 2021. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

State Drought Plans, Declarations, or States of Emergency in Effect

Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah
Drought declaration from 2007 that has not been rescinded State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan shifted from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (full activation) on November 30, 2020 Drought declaration and activation of the State Drought Task Force, December 9, 2020 Drought state of emergency issued on March 17, 2021

Current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE)

  • Combined poor peak snowpack and/or rapid spring melt rates lead to western drought expansion and degradation
  • At its peak, seasonal snowpack was near average east of the Continental Divide, but below average west of the Divide.
  • The Upper Colorado River basin snow water equivalent is currently at 58% of the 1981–2010 median for this point in the snow season.

Snow Water Equivalent in the Upper Colorado Region

Snow water equivalent time series for winter 2020-2021 for the upper Colorado River Basin. Current snow water equivalent is 58% of the historical median for this time of the season.
Snow water equivalent for winter 2020–2021 for the Upper Colorado River basin through May 24, 2021. Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

May Precipitation

Most of the precipitation in the region over the past month has been in eastern Colorado where between 2 and 5 inches has accumulated since April 24.

Precipitation Conditions: April 24–May 23, 2021

30-day precipitation totals (in inches) for the western U.S., from April 24 to May 23, 2021. Eastern Colorado saw the most precipitation in the Intermountain West, with 2 to 5 inches of accumulated precipitation since April 24.

30-day percent of normal precipitation for the western U.S., from April 24 to May 23, 2021. Eastern Colorado and parts of eastern New Mexico saw above-normal precipitation, with below-normal conditions across much of the rest of the Intermountain West.
Top: 30-day precipitation totals from April 24 to May 23, 2021. Bottom: 30-day percent of normal precipitation to from April 24 to May 23, 2021. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Evaporative Drought Demand Index (EDDI)

4-Week EDDI for May 18, 2021

  • EDDI values have been favorable for Colorado and Wyoming over the past month.
  • There is high evaporation demand for this time of year across southern Utah and Arizona. 
 4-week averaged Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) as of May 18, 2021. Areas of average to low EDDI are shown in white and blue and cover most the northwest, including northern California. This area extends to northern Nevada, northern Utah, Wyoming, and northern Colorado. Areas of high EDDI are shown in yellow and red and cover southern California, Arizona and New Mexico and also the Great Lakes region.
4-week Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) for May 18, 2021. Source: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratories (ESRL) Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL).

Forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

8–14 Day Outlooks

  • May and June are usually the driest months of the year for the southwest
  • Below-normal precipitation is favored in the 8–14 day outlook for Utah.
  • Above-normal temperatures are most likely for Arizona and Utah while odds slightly favor below-normal temperatures for eastern New Mexico.

8–14 Day Temperature Outlook

Climate Prediction Center 8-14 day temperature outlook, showing the probability of exceeding the median temperature for June 3 - 9, 2021. Odds favor above normal temperatures for the western U.S. while odds favor below-normal temperatures for Texas.
8–14 day temperature outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions from June 3–9, 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

8–14 Day Precipitation Outlook

Climate Prediction Center 8-14 day precipitation outlook, showing the probability of exceeding the median precipitation for June 3-9, 2021. Odds favor below normal precipitation for much of the western U.S. above normal precipitation for the eastern U.S. and parts of the Midwest.
8–14 day precipitation outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions from June 3–9, 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

1-Month Outlooks for June

  • June precipitation is usually low across the Intermountain west. This year, below-normal precipitation and above normal temperatures are expected for Colorado and northern Utah with drought conditions expected to worsen.
  • The Southwest monsoon season officially begins on June 15, but monsoon rainfall is more likely to occur in July and August.
  • Temperatures are expected to be high.
  • There is an equal chance of above- or below-normal precipitation for Arizona, southern Utah, and western New Mexico.

June 2021 Temperature Outlook 

Climate Prediction Center 1-month temperature outlook, showing the probability of below-, above-, or near-normal temperature conditions for June 2021. Odds favor above normal temperatures for most of the U.S. with the highest odds over the southwest.
1-month temperature outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions during June 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

June 2021 Precipitation Outlook 

Climate Prediction Center 1-month precipitation outlook, showing the probability of below-, above-, or near-normal precipitation conditions for June 2021. Odds favor below normal precipitation for the northern half of the western U.S. and for Texas.
1-month precipitation outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions during June 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

June-August Seasonal Outlook

  • For June to August, there is a greater chance for above-normal temperatures across the Southwest.
  • Below normal precipitation is favored for the Intermountain West region through the summer. Arizona has an equal chance of above or below normal precipitation. 

3-Month Temperature Outlook

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for June to August, 2021. Odds favor above-normal temperatures for most of the U.S.
Seasonal temperature outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions from June to August 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

3-Month Precipitation Outlook

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for June to August 2021.  Odds favor below normal precipitation for the northern half of the western U.S. and New Mexico.
Seasonal precipitation outlook, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions from June to August 2021. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Drought Outlook 

Long-term drought conditions are forecast to continue at least through August across the Intermountain West.

3-Month Drought Outlook

Climate Predication Center Seasonal Drought Outlook for May 20 to August 31, 2021. Current drought conditions over the western U.S. are forecast to persist while drought development is likely for the Pacific Northwest.
U.S. seasonal drought outlook for May 20–August 31, 2021, showing the probability that drought will persist, improve, or develop. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Climate Patterns

Probability of El Niño, La Niña, or Neutral Conditions

 A bar graph showing the probability of El Niño, La Niña, or neutral conditions from April 2021 to February 2022. ENSO-neutral conditions are the most likely outcome throughout summer, followed by possible La Niña conditions in autumn and winter.
ENSO forecasts from the International Research Institute, showing the probability of El Niño, La Niña, or neutral conditions through February 2022. Source: International Research Institute

State-Based Conditions and Impacts

Arizona

  • 100% of state is in some measure of drought, with 87% in Extreme (D3) or Exceptional (D4) drought. 12-month rainfall totals for most of southeast Arizona are at or near the record lowest levels.
  • 90% of the state pasture land is rated as poor to very poor compared to just 13% at this time last May, and the 5-year average of 35%.  
  • Fire:
    • Stage 2 fire restrictions were issued in southeastern Arizona. Arizona has had 350 wildland fires already this year, with two Type 1 fires (highest level incident and fire suppression response).
    • There is above-normal fire risk for all of Arizona during the remainder of May and June.
  • Water storage:
    • Lake Mead has dropped to 1,074.96 feet, which is designated to trigger a Tier 1 shortage.

Arizona February to April Precipitation Rankings

February to April precipitation ranking in 127 years of records for Arizona. Southern Arizona ranks within the bottom 10% of all years.
February to April precipitation rankings for Arizona over the past 127 years. Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Colorado

  • April 2021 was the driest April on record for the west slopes of Colorado, increasing concerns about summer water availability and fires.
    • Water use curtailments are in place, such as for the McPhee Reservoir in Southwest Colorado.
  • Above-average spring precipitation has been well-timed and beneficial east of the Continental Divide.
    • Municipal water providers in Denver and Colorado Springs reported no planned restrictions at the May Water Availability Task Force meeting.
    • May is a climatologically wet month for eastern Colorado and very important for agriculture. May 2021 has been wetter than normal.
    • The Grass-Cast product now shows that average precipitation for the remainder of the season would lead to above-average production. 
    • Colorado State University Extension reports that wet soils have kept tractors out of the fields and led to delayed planting for some farmers.
      • Late planting in the spring leaves corn more vulnerable to early freezes in the fall.

3-Month Precipitation Anomalies for Colorado

Colorado 3-month precipitation anomalies from February 25 to May 15, 2021. Precipitation has been 1.5 to 6 inches above average for eastern Colorado and 1.5 to 6 inches below average for western Colorado.
3-month precipitation anomalies for Colorado, as of May 25, 2021. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

New Mexico

  • Much of the state continues to struggle with long-term drought from the lack of summer precipitation in both 2019 and 2020. The 12-month period from April 2021 to May 2020 was the driest on record state-wide.
  • State-wide, 62% of the state's pastures and rangelands were reported in very poor to poor condition, compared with 38% last year, and a 5-year average of 36%.
  • From the May 23 USDA Crop Progress Report, 82% of the state had very short to short top soil moisture compared to the 5-year average of 66%.
  • Precipitation for May-to-date has been below average for most of the state, but above average across the northeast corner of New Mexico.
    • Precipitation is historically low in May.
  • Long-term drought shows up clearly in surface water levels in the Rio Grande and Pecos Basins. For example, Elephant Butte storage is 12% of capacity.  

May 2021 Precipitation Anomalies for New Mexico

May month-to-date precipitation anomalies for New Mexico, as of May 25, 2021. Precipitation has been 0.5 to 2 inches above average for north eastern New Mexico and up to 1 inch below average for the rest of the state.
May-to-date precipitation anomalies for New Mexico, through May 25, 2021. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center.

Rio Grande and Pecos River Basin Reservoir Storage

Map of reservoir storages on the Rio Grande and Pecos River Basins. Elephant Butte is 12% full, Caballo is at 18%, Sumner is at 22%, Brantley is at 31%, and Avalon is at 17%.
Rio Grande and Pecos River Basin storage as of May 26, 2021. Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Utah

  • The recent rain events of biweekly intervals have eased the drought status slightly.  
    • Northern Utah has benefitted the most from these rains, with the rest of the state seeing less than 0.5 inches of rain in the last 30 days.
    • The light rains have not translated to much improvement in soil moisture, but the evaporative demand over the last month has not been significant. This has helped what little rain has fallen to remain in the soils as much as possible.
  • Utah is still mostly under severe drought category in April, but compared to January, central and eastern Utah have seen a tendency towards less severity. 
    • The most drought-intense regions are distributed along the slopes of the Wasatch Range, where orchid farms are most impacted by the dryness. 
    • Agricultural impacts are still extreme for central and eastern Utah, with farming reports of water allotments of 1% of a normal year’s allowance in some extreme cases. We do not expect a positive growing season for a great deal of the state's agricultural community.
    • Ongoing drought could lead to water-use restrictions soon. Utah’s water supplies remain severely depleted heading into summer.

April Drought Conditions for Utah

Palmer Drought Severity Index derived from PRISM precipitation data and  merged with more than 120 surface stations across Utah, as can be seen by the little squares in the difference map (right). Data is for April 2021 (left) and the difference from January to April 2021.
These drought maps are based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index derived from PRISM precipitation data and merged with more than 120 surface stations across Utah, as can be seen by the little squares in the difference map (right). Data is for April 2021 (left) and the difference from January to April 2021 (right).

Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI)

VegDRI index showing drought's effects on vegetation stress for Utah. Valid May 25, 2021.
Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) showing Utah's vegetative impacts from drought. Sources: National Drought Mitigation Center, U.S. Geological Survey, and High Plains Regional Climate Center, via Drought.gov.

Utah Depth Averaged Soil Saturation

Utah statewide soil moisture comparison of the current year (black line) and the historical distribution of observations. Currently, the state collectively sits at approximately the 10th percentile after the spring runoff has concluded. Streamflow has not seen a corresponding peak as a majority of melt has been absorbed by the soils.
Statewide soil moisture comparison of the current year (black line) and the historical distribution of observations. Currently, the state collectively sits at approximately the 10th percentile after the spring runoff has concluded. Streamflow has not seen a corresponding peak as a majority of melt has been absorbed by the soils. Source: USDA NRCS.

Wyoming

  • May saw an improvement in a large area of central Wyoming going from D2 to D0 conditions as well as the removal of over a third of the Extreme Drought.
  • The percentage of the state not in D0-D4 doubled in May and now is over 10 percent.
  • Recent precipitation in the west has helped conditions there but still dry longer term with deficits greater than 2.5” showing up starting at 60 days.
  • Temperatures have generally been within +/-3F of average for May.Although there has been recent improvements, soil moisture continues to be a concern with significant areas being at the 5th percentile or less.

90-Precipitation Anomalies for Wyoming

Wyoming 90-day precipitation departure from the 1991-2020 average, for February 26 to May 26, 2021.
 90-day precipitation departure from the 1991-2020 average (February 26 to May 26, 2021). Sources: PRISM Climate Group, Wyoming State Climate Office.

Wyoming Soil Moisture Percentile

Wyoming soil moisture percentiles for May 26, 2021. Significant areas have soil moisture at the 5th percentile or less.
Modeled soil moisture percentiles for Wyoming, valid May 26, 2021. Sources: NOAA Climate Prediction Center, Wyoming State Climate Office.

    For More Information

    More local information is available from the following resources:

    In Case You Missed It

    Upcoming Events

    Prepared By

    Joel Lisonbee
    NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

    Erin Saffell
    Arizona State Climatologist/Arizona State University

    Erin Boyle
    Service Hydrologist, National Weather Service, Tucson, Arizona

    Peter Goble
    Colorado Climate Center/Colorado State University

    Simon Wang and Jon Meyer
    Utah Climate Center/Utah State University

    Dave DuBois
    New Mexico Climate Center/New Mexico State University

    Tony Bergantino
    Water Resources Data System, Wyoming State Climate Office

    Special Thanks

    This drought early warning update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the offices of the state climatologist for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The purpose of the update is to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Intermountain West based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought updates as conditions evolve.