Deepening Midwest drought expanding rapidly

Only limited rainfall now expected for Minnesota Sunday night into Monday

The dry creek bed is seen below the lip of a waterfall
Looking over the lip of Minnehaha Falls, the dry, rocky creek bed is seen below on Sept. 27 in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Welcome to another warm, windy, mostly dry Minnesota October weekend.

Forecast high temperatures Saturday
Forecast high temperatures Saturday.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As many of us bask in our balmy late fall weather pattern, the consistent dryness over the past few months is causing some big problems. Drought is rapidly expanding across the central U.S. now.

The deepening drought has pushed large chunks of the central United States into severe and extreme drought categories. There’s a lot of red on this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map. (top of post)

Here are some select data points that caught my eye this week:

  • 82 percent of the continental U.S. now shows either abnormally dry or drought conditions.

  • About 60 percent of America is in a drought zone, with 34 percent in severe or deeper drought.

  • 133,968,731 Americans now live in the growing drought zone.

Here in the Midwest, dry-drought zone coverage has expanded by 40 percent in the past 4 weeks.

Here’s the rundown on expanding drought in the Midwest region, especially the Upper Mississippi Valley where we live.


Moderate rainfall over several days leading up to Tuesday (October 18), associated with a series of storm systems over the Great Lakes, resulted in targeted improvements to portions of western and northern Michigan and eastern Ohio this week. However, most areas, particularly along the Ohio and Middle and Upper Mississippi Valleys, experienced another round of degradation this week. Short-term (30 to 60-day) SPIs are widespread D1-equivalent (moderate drought) or worse across areas seeing degradation. Additionally, topsoil moisture continues to dry out across portions of the Ohio Valley and the Corn Belt. Deeper soil moisture remains very low also across much of the Mississippi Valley, with several soil moisture indicators (CPC Leaky Bucket, NASA SPoRT, and NASA GRACE) exhibiting large coverage of D1-equivalent (moderate drought) or worse soil moisture conditions along and west of the Mississippi River.

Persistently dry

Most of Minnesota and Iowa have recorded less than an inch of rain in the past month. Many areas have seen less than one-half inch. Check out the 30-day precipitation totals from the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

30-day precipitation
30-day precipitation
Midwest Regional Climate Center

Mostly dry forecast

There’s an old weather forecast adage that says, “When in a drought, don’t forecast rain.” That seems to ring true looking at the forecast maps for the next one to two weeks.

The inbound low-pressure system that will bring scattered rains Sunday into Monday looked promising a few days ago. It now appears likely to produce scattered, limited rainfall for our region.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts 10-day precipitation output model projects only spotty rainfall for Minnesota. The best chance for widespread meaningful rain favors North Dakota.

European model (ECMWF) precipitation output
Precipitation output through Oct. 30
European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, via Pivotal Weather