Drought continues to parch the West

Drought conditions persist
Photo Credit: Getty Images

According to the most recent update from the U.S. Drought Monitor, the western United States is still enduring abnormally dry weather. Though rainfall has brought drought relief to the Midwest, central Plains and southern Florida, drought conditions have persisted or worsened from the west coast into the central and southern Rockies.

Here is a closer look at drought conditions in five key western states:


  • Dry conditions prevailed throughout the entire state in May, with a few scattered showers across northern and northeastern Arizona
  • Slight rainfall helped keep the drought status in many areas from further degradation, though regions of Mohave, Apache and La Paz counties intensified from moderate to severe drought
  • Lake Mead has dropped substantially to hold 45% of its capacity, while Lake Powell, the principal upstream reservoir, now holds just 42% of its capacity
  • Wildfires are a significant threat as hot, windy weather has caused even drier conditions in the western part of the state
  • Experts anticipate little relief until the monsoon season becomes active


  • Despite above-average rainfall throughout May, over 95% of the state is in moderate to exceptional drought, over 84% of the state is in severe to exceptional drought, and nearly 30% of the state in extreme to exceptional drought
  • Reservoir stores are only slightly more than half of normal levels
  • The NOAA forecasts conditions may improve in much of the state this summer


  • While the entire state is in drought, over 40% is in extreme drought and 11% in exceptional drought
  • Lake Tahoe is expected to drop below its natural rim around September, the earliest that has ever occurred in a decade
  • By early August, flows of the Truckee River will have dropped to the point that Reno’s water provider will have to resort to its back-up supplies for the first time in 20 years
  • Reservoir storage is about a third of normal
  • Extreme drought has left pinyon and juniper trees stressed and sickly, adding to growing concern of destructive wildfires
  • Danger of wildfire is especially severe in the timbered high country of the state


  • Statewide precipitation in May was below average, at 73%
  • Reservoir storage is down to 71% of capacity
  • Some regions of Utah are managing to stay out of drought, with precipitation ranging from 102% of normal in the Raft River Mountains to 74% in the Upper Sevier River Area
  • The lowest areas for precipitation this year include southwestern Utah at 58% of average and southeastern Utah at 64%
  • According to new reports, the Bear River Basin and the Wasatch Front are no longer considered drought-impacted
  • The National Climate Prediction Center forecasts suggest warmer conditions for western Utah over the summer months and near normal in the rest of the state


  • Roughly half of the state remains in some level of drought, while more than 15% of the state is in severe to exceptional drought
  • Southeastern Colorado is the hardest hit region, with less extreme drought conditions spread across the southern and eastern parts of the state
  • The South Platte River in northeastern Colorado is predicted to run 150% or higher of average due to heavy mountain snow last winter while rivers in the southwest are expected to be below 50% of average
  • Statewide, June precipitation has been 33% of average
  • The most recent U.S. Drought Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center indicates that while drought conditions will remain across southeast Colorado this summer, this is a good chance to see some continued improvement


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