Despite being a relatively wet place, the United States has its fair share of drought zones. In fact, as of September 2020, nearly half of the contiguous U.S. is in some stage of drought. So, what exactly is a drought? And where are these active drought zones located? Let’s take a closer look.
What is a Drought?
A drought is a prolonged period of abnormally dry weather resulting in a significant water shortage. While Spellcheck might try to tell you that it’s “draught” with an ‘a’—like what you get at a pub—it’s actually spelled with an ‘ough’ because it’s derived from the Old English word for dryness, which is “drough.” There are four types of drought:
Meteorological droughts occur when there is a prolonged period of below-average precipitation, usually three months or more. Agricultural droughts happen when a lack of water causes crop or pasture damage. Hydrological droughts are characterized by low streamflows, groundwater levels, and soil moisture. Lastly, social droughts happen when the lack of water leads to water shortages that affect people and animals.
Drought Zones in the United States
Droughts can happen anywhere—even in wetter areas like Seattle or Boston. However, they are most common in arid and semi-arid regions like the southwestern U.S., which includes California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Idaho and Oregon.
These areas are typically drier because they lie in the rain shadow of mountain ranges like the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Additionally, these regions tend to have high evaporation rates due to their warm temperatures and low humidities. As a result, they are more susceptible to drought conditions.
The Effects of Drought
When you live in a drought zone—or any area experiencing a drought—you can expect higher temperatures and lower humidity levels than average. You might also see changes in plant life, including wilted leaves and flowers, dry grasses, and dead trees. Animal life can also be affected; for example, you might see more snakes or rodents as they search for food and water sources. Additionally, wildfires are more common during periods of drought due to the abundance of dried vegetation.
Worst Drought Zones as of 2022
The worst drought zones in the United States as of September 2020 are located in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Idaho and Oregon. In fact, nearly half of the contiguous U.S. is currently experiencing some stage of drought.
What You Can Do to Help
If you live in an area experiencing a drought, there are some things you can do to help. For example, you can conserve water by taking shorter showers, watering your plants during the cooler hours of the day, and using a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway. You can also help by planting drought-tolerant plants in your yard and avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides. Lastly, you can donate to organizations working to mitigate the effects of drought.
Droughts are periods of abnormally dry weather that can last for months—or even years—at a time. These conditions can have devastating effects on plant life, animal life, and humans alike. If you live in an area prone to drought conditions, it’s essential to be prepared for what might come your way. Stay safe out there!