Drought - October 2003


NCDC transitioned to the nClimDiv dataset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. This was coincident with the release of the February 2014 monthly monitoring report. For details on this transition, please visit our public FTP site and our U.S. Climate Divisional Database site.

U.S. Drought Highlights:

  • On the national scale, severe to extreme drought affected about 27 percent of the contiguous United States as of the end of October 2003
    • moderate to extreme drought affected about 42 percent of the contiguous U.S.
  • Short-term conditions were dry across much of the West, Great Plains, and Upper Midwest to Great Lakes, and parts of the Southeast
  • In some areas, the October dryness was a continuation of dry conditions from September and August
  • Long-term moisture deficits (last 12 to 24 months) persisted across parts of the Great Lakes to central and northern Plains, and most of the West

Please Note: The data presented in this drought report are preliminary. Ranks, anomalies, and percent areas may change as more complete data are received and processed.


National Overview

On the national scale,

  • severe to extreme drought affected about 27 percent of the contiguous United States as of the end of October 2003, an increase of about 1 percent compared to last month
  • about 42 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the moderate to extreme drought categories (based on the Palmer Drought Index) at the end of October
  • on a broad scale, the last two decades were characterized by unusual wetness with short periods of extensive droughts, whereas the 1930s and 1950s were characterized by prolonged periods of extensive droughts with little wetness (see graph below right)
  • about 16 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the severely to extremely wet categories at the end of October
  • a file containing the national monthly percent area severely dry and wet from 1900 to present is available
  • historical temperature, precipitation, and Palmer drought data from 1895 to present for climate divisions, states, and regions in the contiguous U.S. are available at the Climate Division: Temperature-Precipitation-Drought Data page in files having names that start with "drd964x" and ending with "txt" (without the quotes).

Regional Overview

Most of the drought areas were dry during October, resulting in intensifying drought conditions across much of the West to the western Great Lakes. Heavy rains ended drought over parts of Washington state, but the month was dry across much of the West, Great Plains, and Upper Midwest to Great Lakes, and parts of the Southeast. Unusually warm temperatures accompanied the dryness across much of the West and into the Great Plains. The primary stations in Hawaii and in southeastern and east central Alaska were drier than normal during October. The precipitation pattern for the stations in Puerto Rico for the last 4 weeks to 8 weeks was generally mixed with drier than normal stations located mostly in the northeast.

Across much of the drought area, the October dryness was a continuation of dry conditions from the summer and early fall (September, August, and July). Even longer-term moisture deficits (last 12 to 24 months) persisted across parts of the Great Lakes to central and northern Plains and most of the West.

Some regional highlights:

  • Colorado had its sixth driest and California its seventh driest October, and Iowa its third driest, Minnesota its sixth driest, and Wisconsin its seventh driest August-October, in 2003, based on statewide records going back to 1895
  • according to November 2 reports from the USDA,
    • 50% or more of the topsoils were classified in "poor" or "very poor" ("short" or "very short") condition for all of the reporting states across the main drought areas
    • 80% or more of the topsoils were classified in "poor" or "very poor" ("short" or "very short") condition for New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon
  • according to November 3 reports from the USDA,
    • 50% or more of the pasture and range land was classified in "poor" or "very poor" condition for the central and northern Plains states from Colorado to Wisconsin
    • about 40% or more of the pasture and range land was classified in "poor" or "very poor" condition for all of the states from the Rocky Mountains westward
    • the percentages were 95% for California, 83% for New Mexico, and 78% for Montana
  • end-of-October reservoir storage for all of the reporting western states averaged below the long-term mean percent of capacity for this time of year
  • the percent area of the western U.S. (Rockies westward) experiencing moderate to extreme drought (as defined by the Palmer Drought Index) increased during October to about 80%, which is near record historical levels
  • over a dozen large wildland fires were burning at the end of October, mainly in California but also in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Oklahoma

Citing This Report

NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: Drought for October 2003, published online November 2003, retrieved on July 28, 2014 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/2003/oct.