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States With the Worst Droughts, Ranked



The 21st century has given the United States a dose of what the future of climate change has in store. “All of the years on record that were hotter or more disaster-filled came in the past decade,” according to Climate Central in 2019.

That record refers to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA climate reports that show the hottest 10 years on record occurred between 1998 and 2018, as did the years with record numbers of weather and climate-related disasters each costing over $1 billion in losses. Among those disasters were several significant, costly, and deadly droughts.

Stacker ranked each state and Washington D.C., based on the average percentage of the state land that experienced drought conditions in the 20-year period from 2000 to March 2021, using data from the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM). The USDM categories drought conditions using a five point scale ranging from “abnormally dry,” indicating some short-term crop dryness or a lingering water deficit, to “exceptional drought,” a serious condition involving a water emergency that leads to widespread crop/pasture losses.

The list also describes conditions that led to drought—or the lack thereof—in each state, while looking at the events leading up to the state’s change in drought status over the course of the year. Continue reading to learn which states experience the worst droughts.

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Garrett Griner/Getty Images

1. Arizona

– Share of state experiencing drought conditions (20-year average): 87,702 sq. mi. (76.9% of land area); 4,867,057 people (76.1% of population)
— Moderate drought: 64,563 sq. mi. (56.6% of land area); 3,644,322 people (57.0% of population)
— Severe drought: 38,251 sq. mi. (33.5% of land area); 2,049,987 people (32.1% of population)
— Extreme drought: 15,949 sq. mi. (14.0% of land area); 780,806 people (12.2% of population)
— Exceptional drought: 2,642 sq. mi. (2.3% of land area); 63,034 people (1.0% of population)

Arizona is a southwestern state that spent much of the last 20 years in a near-constant drought, and the numbers aren’t much better this year. The state is taking significant steps—including recycling wastewater and banking water underground in reservoirs—to prepare for a future without access to what has long been its lifeblood: water from the Colorado River.

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