From Lake Mead to the Mississippi River: The 5 Worst Droughts in the US Right Now

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: December 21, 2022
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Drought is more complex than one might think. Besides the five levels of drought that showcase the phenomenon’s intensity, there are also three levels of impact. As such, a drought can have short-term impacts (effects lasting less than six months and usually affecting grasslands and agriculture), long-term impacts (effects lasting over six months and usually affecting ecology and hydrology), and both short- and long-term impacts that are the most destructive overall.

Currently, many U.S. regions experience exceptional drought. This article will showcase some of the worst droughts in the U.S. right now, from Lake Mead to the Mississippi River!

Before diving into details, we must mention that the data in this article is based on the update made by the U.S. Drought Monitor on the 6th of December, 2022, and on the 7th of December, 2021, respectively.

As such, here are the U.S. states with the worst droughts!

Utah – 2% Of the State in Exceptional Drought, 36% In Extreme Drought

capitol reef national park
The drought in Utah directly results from climate change.

©Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock.com

Currently, almost 90% of the state is experiencing severe drought, including the types mentioned in the heading. In the affected areas live approximately 2.8 million people. Sanpete County is the most affected part of Utah, with 61% of its surface under exceptional drought.

Like in the case of California and much of the Western U.S., the drought in Utah directly results from climate change. At the same time, the drought is worsened as the state hasn’t seen much precipitation lately. The result is a lack of enough water in Utah’s territory.

  • Utah’s water conditions have been just as severe one year ago. What’s worse is the fact that, in the first nine months of 2022, Utah experienced moderate drought throughout the entire state (100% coverage).

Kansas – 35% Of the State in Exceptional Drought, 57% In Extreme Drought

The southern part of the High Plains region of the U.S. is in grave danger. Ironically, the states that have bodies of water running through them (Kansas and Nebraska) experience the highest levels of drought in the High Plains region.

Almost 70% of Kansas is in severe or worse drought. This is bad news given that, one year ago, in the same period, only  20% of the state was covered in moderate or worse drought. In terms of its DSCI score, Kansas saw a growth of almost 300 points in just a single year.

Approximately 2.5 million people live in the Kansas areas affected by drought. According to Mark Nelson (Kansas Farm Bureau Director of Commodities), this is the worst the state has experienced in the last ten years.

  • The worst drought in Kansas happened in August 2012, when the state experienced an Exceptional Drought of almost 67% of its surface.
  • The longest drought in the state lasted 248 weeks – from late 2010 to mid-2015.

Nebraska – 17% Of the State in Exceptional Drought, 58% In Extreme Drought

Welcome to Nebraska sing.
Nebraska has to deal with severe drought conditions on over 85% of its surface.

©Michael Kaercher/Shutterstock.com

Nebraska has a similar faith to Kansas, so to speak. The state’s DSCI score added about 240 points in just one year. From severe drought covering over 14% of its surface, Nebraska now has to deal with severe drought conditions on over 85% of its surface.

Approximately 1.8 million people live in the areas affected by drought.

However, the state isn’t a stranger to droughts. The longest dry period of the state lasted almost 350 weeks, from early 2002 until mid-late 2008. The worst occurred in October 2012, when 78% of Nebraska’s territory was covered in drought.

  • Reportedly, the state of Nebraska just had the driest month of August in the last 128 years of keeping a record of droughts. It is the worst time for cattle producers to do business, as forage production is heavily affected.

Oklahoma – 19% Of the State in Exceptional Drought, 64% In Extreme Drought

In the South, the southern-central part of Texas and Oklahoma are experiencing severe to exceptional drought. However, the situation is much worse in Oklahoma, where 86% of the state is covered in severe drought.

Like the previous entries in this top of the worst droughts, the state’s DSCI score increased by almost 240 points in just a year. Compared to today’s 86%, only 29% of the state’s surface was covered in drought last year.

One reason Oklahoma is drier is that it got caught in a climate signal caused by the cooling of the ocean’s waters. The latter phenomenon may end up in warmer and drier conditions that are usually experienced in the southern part of the United States.

  • 2011 marked the year of the worst drought in Oklahoma. Since 2011, the state has experienced only two other droughts – but nowhere as strong as this one. Judging by the current drought, this year’s dry conditions might surpass that.

California – 12% Of the State in Exceptional Drought, 40% In Extreme Drought

The St. Francis concrete dam, located in Los Angeles County, CA, failed due to design flaws and defective soil.
California’s drought results from climate change caused by the infamous global warming.

This year’s drought in California is considered one of the worst in the United States. At the moment, 85% of the state is experiencing severe drought, including the types mentioned in the heading. In the affected areas live approximately 37.2 million people.

However, the state is doing better this year compared to last year’s statistics. In 2021, almost 30% of the state was experiencing exceptional drought, and 80% was in extreme drought.

According to research, California’s drought results from climate change caused by the infamous global warming. The region that California is a part of is currently going through the driest 22 years in the last approximately 1,200 years. This period is often referred to as a megadrought.

  • Roughly 92% of the western part of the U.S. is currently experiencing drought, with almost 20% of the surface being exposed to extreme or exceptional levels.

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Drought impact
A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems.
© Piyaset/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. U.S. Drought Monitor, Available here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA
  2. U.S. Drought Monitor, Available here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?UT
  3. U.S. Drought Monitor, Available here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?KS
  4. U.S. Drought Monitor, Available here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?NE
  5. U.S. Drought Monitor, Available here: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?OK