Droughts in the US: Which States are at the Highest Risk?

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Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: October 2, 2023

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Many parts of the United States experience natural disasters often. And although our society is brimming with new technology, natural disasters are still a cause for concern. Droughts, for example, can be pretty damaging to the ecosystem, and droughts have plagued the U.S. at various times and in multiple seasons.

In this article, we will take a look at droughts in the US, 5 states with higher risks of droughts, the effects of droughts on plants and wildlife, and possible solutions to the drought problem in the US.

What are Droughts?

Droughts affect the soil’s ability to produce food.


Have you ever experienced a period when rain is supposed to fall, and there is no rain for that period? This could be the start of a drought. A drought often refers to a period when a particular area experiences extremely low or no precipitation, which means that area does not have rainfall or snow for some time or when they fall, they are significantly lower than the normal rate.

Droughts can be much more dangerous than landslides, typhoons, and tornadoes, because at their extreme they affect the soil’s ability to produce food. Inevitably, a drought would result in a lack of water in that area for the period of the drought. We will look more into the effects of drought on plants and wildlife in the US later in this article. 

Are Droughts Common in the US?

Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s has been recognized as the most extreme drought period in US history.

©NOAA George E. Marsh Album / CC0 1.0 – Original / License

America is prone to droughts like the rest of the world and average drought conditions throughout the country have varied over time. The Dust Bowl era of the 1930s has been recognized as the most extreme drought period in US history. The scale of this drought was quite widespread, and it was pretty intense too. 

Looking at the larger picture, there has been a gradual reduction in the effects of droughts in the past 50 years, and since the 2000s, even though droughts have been widespread, they have not been as intense as in the 1930s and 1950s. 

Droughts are fairly frequent across regions, but they are not as severe as they once were.

Which States in the US Experience Drought the Most?


Regions within the United States experience droughts occasionally and the effects of this can range from a hot environment to scarcity of water. While droughts affect entire regions, some states are more prone to droughts than others. 

Generally, it would be easy to single out western and southwestern states as those that experience droughts but some criteria have been put in place to measure what droughts are common in a state.

In a recent study of droughts spanning 20 years and across every state in the country, here are 5 states that experience droughts the most.


On average, over 20 years, about 60% of California’s land and population have experienced significant drought conditions. The percentage reduces along with the severity of the drought. There have been various spates of wildfires in the state, which highlights the dry atmosphere of the state. Climate experts have predicted the possibility of a mega-drought in the state in the coming years. 


In Utah, the portion of the state’s land that has experienced drought over the last 20 years is about 67%, while 65.5% of the population has experienced drought too. Utah experienced its most intense drought period since 2000 in January of 2021.

New Mexico

The most prolonged duration of drought in New Mexico since 2000 spanned 329 weeks, starting on the 1st of May 2001 and ending on the 14th of August 2007. About 70% of the population and landmass have experienced drought since 2000. Studies even claim that the last 2 decades have been the worst drought period in over 1200 years for New Mexico. 


In Nevada, three major droughts have battered the state over the past 20 years. Over this same period, about 71% of the land has experienced drought, while 72% of the population has been recipients of droughts too. This has resulted in an increase in the possibility of fire outbreaks in the state. 


Arizona can be said to be the state worst-hit by drought in the past 20 years. For almost 20 years, the state has been in constant drought. The official drought monitor site for the US shows that the state is currently experiencing an abnormally dry season, making it prone to fires, while a more significant percentage of the state is presently experiencing drying ponds and creeks.  

Do Droughts in the US Affect Plants and Wildlife?

Droughts equal dry weather and, in turn, a reduction or complete absence of water. Over time, droughts dry up water bodies and transform the habitats of wild animals, killing vegetation in the process. In the short term, and depending on how harsh the drought is, this might provide easy prey for predators, but this would affect the general ecosystem in the long run. 

Plants suffer worse, especially those that require a lot of water to grow. Droughts often cause a general shortage in food supplies and, if proper precautions are not taken, might lead to famines. 

Are there Possible Solutions to Droughts in the US?

Various factors cause droughts; some are man-made, and others are natural. The increase in drought levels across the nation is a significant cause for concern and a sign of the effects of global warming on the world. 

When steps are taken to combat global warming and protect the plant’s ecosystem, there would be a chain reaction in nature that would reduce the intensity of droughts across the country. 

Droughts cannot be eradicated as it often has natural causes, but their effects can be prepared for. States can formulate plans to combat varying degrees of droughts depending on the unique nature of each state.

Summary of States That Are at the Highest Risk of Drought

3New Mexico

Where in the US is safe from drought?

Water droplets in the rain

Hydrologic outlooks are critical tools for understanding and preparing for potential hydrological events, such as floods, droughts, and water availability changes.

©Jia Ning Chen/Shutterstock.com

Although modern times have many technological advancements and solutions, almost all states and areas of the country are vulnerable to water shortages leading to droughts. There are only three states in the Union that have dodged them. These are Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

The country’s northeastern part has not been so affected by drought conditions for different reasons. This region’s climate is heavily influenced by oceanic weather and continental patterns.

One such major factor in New England’s weather and rainfall is the Gulf Stream that moves into the area from the southern parts of the United States. The Stream brings with it warmer water than that surrounding it, which evaporates faster and causes more moisture to be in the air. Rainfall can come from such occurrences and help prevent drought in the three states.

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