For more than 20 years the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) has been monitoring dozens of indices of drought around the country, including satellite measurements of evaporation and color in vegetation, soil-moisture sensors, rainfall estimates, and river and streamflow levels. Although the agency’s weekly assessments have identified periods of exceptional drought before, lately dryness has been ramping up. “The changing climate is definitely contributing to more natural disasters, drought being one of them,” says Brian Fuchs, a climatologist who oversees the weekly report at the NDMC. “We’re seeing more frequent and high-intensity episodes. This year some of these areas in the West have been in drought more than they have been without drought.”

Series of bar graphs shows weekly drought extent and intensity by U.S. region over time from 2000 to 2021.

Credit: Cédric Scherer and Georgios Karamanis; Source: U.S. Drought Monitor, jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (data)