Discover the Driest State in the US (It Can Be Illegal to Water Your Lawn!)

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: October 25, 2022
© Dominic Gentilcore PhD/Shutterstock.com
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With an area of 3,531,905 square miles (9,833,520 km2), the United States of America is the world’s fourth-largest country, accounting for 6.1 percent of the planet’s landmass. The volume and regularity of rainfall vary significantly throughout the country due to its vast area. While some states in the country receive much more rainfall than others, some states are dry, receiving only a few inches of rain per month. But among these dry states in the US, which of them is the driest? We’ll give you a hint: it can be illegal to water your lawn here!

Winter is the driest season for most dry states, with most top ten receiving less than an inch of rain per month. California is driest in the summer, with only a quarter-inch of rain falling each month. However, this is almost nothing compared to the driest state in the US: Nevada. Below, we will explore why Nevada has become the country’s driest state, what the weather here is like, and other interesting facts.

What is the Driest State in the US?

Washoe Lake Nevada
Nevada is the driest state in the United States.

©iStock.com/gchapel

With approximately 10.2 inches (241 mm) of rain each year, Nevada tops among the driest states in the United States. Mountain states, such as Wyoming and Montana, consistently top among Nevada. Focusing on state-wide precipitation estimates, the ten driest states in America receive no more than 20 inches of rain and snow every year. Seasonally, however, the states with the least amount of precipitation shift. North and South Dakota have the driest winters, whereas Arizona and New Mexico have the driest springs. California and Nevada lead in the summer, and Nevada and Wyoming lead in the fall.

Nevada is the driest state in the country, with annual average precipitation of only 10.2 inches from 1895 to 2020. Average yearly rainfall fluctuates from 4 inches in some low elevation regions in the southwest to over 50 inches on the Sierra Nevada’s high altitude summits. The state boasts a wide range of elevations, ranging from less than 500 feet in the sweltering lowland desert to over 13,000 feet in the cold mountain forests in the north. Summer hot temperatures in Las Vegas, for instance, average 102 degrees Fahrenheit and frequently surpass 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to statistics collected since 1938, Las Vegas typically receives slightly under 4.2 inches of rain each year. The state’s wettest recorded year was 1941, with 10.72 inches of rain in the region.

Why is Nevada the Driest State in the US?

Nye County, Nevada
Nevada is the driest state in the US because of its position in the Sierra Nevada’s rain shadow region.

©Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA / Creative Commons – License

The state’s minimal precipitation is due mainly to its placement in the Sierra Nevada’s rain shadow region. Winter storms that form over the Pacific and move west with the jet stream are wrung out by the Sierra Nevada, while the Rocky Mountains buffer the state from moisture pouring up from the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, all rainfall is attributable to the Pacific Ocean’s impact. 

Total precipitation can vary greatly from location to location, especially in states with terrain that ranges from ocean beaches to lofty peaks. Pacific cold fronts, for instance, bring major downpours to the western US and the archipelago of Hawaii in the fall, winter, and spring. 

Furthermore, precipitation in some sections of the country is equally dispersed across the year. As a result, different seasonal rainfall patterns and intensities can be seen across the 50 states. The wettest US states are Hawaii, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida, while Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming are the driest.

The Great Basin encompasses much of the state, including multiple tiny mountain ranges and high-elevation desert valleys. Much of the country is sparsely populated because of the climate and steep rocky terrain. The Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks metro regions, supplied by water from Lake Tahoe and the Colorado River, house most of the area’s population.

Is It Illegal to Water Your Lawn in Nevada?

It is not strictly illegal to water lawns in Nevada, but keeping useless or non-functional grass on lawns is prohibited as they compete with the state for water sources. So technically, there is no need to water your lawn if you don’t have grass planted on it.

Las Vegas has struggled with water scarcity for years, and the climate catastrophe is projected to exacerbate the problem in the future years. In response, the city is taking one bold step: outlawing all grass lawns and requiring their removal under new state legislation. To save water amid a drought drying up the Colorado River, the region’s principal water source, a new Nevada law will ban around 31% of grass in the Las Vegas area. Other towns and states in the United States have passed temporary bans on lawns that must be watered, but Nevada is the first in the US to enact a permanent ban on specific types of grass, thanks to legislation signed in 2021.

The ban is aimed at “non-functional grass,” as defined by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. It refers to grass that is primarily decorative or that almost no one utilizes at street medians, office parks, and housing development gateways that necessitate watering but give little economic or environmental benefits.

How Often Does it Rain in Nevada?

Lincoln County, Nevada
The state of Nevada only receives 10.2 inches of rain every year.

©Dominic Gentilcore PhD/Shutterstock.com

Nevada receives precipitation 26 days per year with 10.2 inches of rain, compared to the national average of 38 inches. The state also seldom receives precipitation in the form of snow, reaching only 0.3 inches every year, whereas the country gets an average of 28 inches annually.

Las Vegas gets an average of 294 sunny days each year, which is much more than the national average of 205 days. Although the city sports an extreme environment, it has a population of about 640,000 people and attracts over 42 million tourists annually. However, if current trends persist, Las Vegas may become unlivable in 30 to 70 years. Some planes are already unable to travel to Las Vegas during the summer since the air is too thin to take off over the plains. This issue will have a negative influence on tourism and the economy.


The Featured Image

Lincoln County, Nevada
© Dominic Gentilcore PhD/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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