The Drought Monitor’s scale runs from 0 to 5, with 1 being the first true level of drought.
In addition to the total lack of the high-level drought areas, zones of severe drought (2 or greater) are at a low point for the past two decades. With Thursday’s update, 0.88 percent of the contiguous United States is under a severe (2) drought. That’s up slightly from last week’s 0.86 percent, but it remains lower than any year prior in the Drought Monitor data.
When it comes to total coverage of “no drought,” this week is the second-highest at around 80 percent, trailing only a period in May 2017 into June 2017, when as much as 85 percent of the country was drought-free.
While areas of “no drought” ticked down slightly from last week, drought-free locations remain at an exceptional 79.37 percent of the contiguous United States. That’s down from a peak of 81.65 percent last week but quite a reversal from summer 2012, when less than 20 percent of the Lower 48 was drought-free.
Before this year or 2017, to find other recent times with comparatively little drought of any category across the Lower 48, we need to look back to the summer of 2010 and the fall of 2009. Like this year, that was an El Niño winter and spring, which are known for producing wet conditions in much of the country.
Although not included in the stats here, it’s also worth noting that parts of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are also under moderate drought. Drought in southeast Alaska has been tied to the persistently warm readings there lately. In Hawaii, it has been something of a cooler-than-normal winter, with north winds and drier air dominating. Puerto Rico has witnessed plenty of sunny days lately, thanks to high pressure anchored off the southeast coast in recent weeks and months, which has helped pump moisture into the eastern United States at the same time.
We never like to talk about extreme drought, so this is all good news. But there’s another side to this. Flooding has already been a major issue this spring in places such as Nebraska as well as neighbors in the Midwest and in areas farther south or east. With an El Niño persisting through spring, NOAA continues to warn of an “unprecedented” spring flood season.
While experts say drought may expand further in parts of the Pacific Northwest over coming months, no other drought development areas are noted at present. Instead, additional drought removal is expected in parts of the four corners and Texas.