Extreme Weather Toolkit: Drought

National Map - Vulnerability to Drought

Rising global temperatures are altering the water cycle and increasing the risk of drought in parts of the U.S. 

There are several different types of drought, characterized by a deficit of precipitation (meteorological), soil moisture (agricultural), or runoff (hydrological).

The U.S. has experienced significant meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological droughts since 2011. Drought can lead to short- and long-term impacts on water supplies, agriculture, ecosystems, wildfire risk, public health and more. 

Warming air increases the potential evaporation from the land and transpiration from plants. This process increases the water available for precipitation in some areas but contributes to drying in other areas — such as the southwestern U.S.

The recent southwestern megadrought (2000-2021) is the most severe of the past 1,200 years, and over 40% of the drought’s severity is attributed to human-caused climate change. Risks of severe and prolonged megadroughts in the Southwest are projected to intensify over this century with continued warming. 

 As the climate continues to warm, the western U.S. also faces increasing risks of hydrological drought due to declining snowpack and earlier spring melt

Overall, human-caused warming is projected to result in drier soils and less runoff in the long term. According to the latest IPCC reports, warming since the 1950s has also increased the frequency of concurrent heatwaves and droughts on a global scale.

Updated: April 2024