October Was Bad News for the U.S. Drought

High heat and low precipitation have only spread dry conditions, a NOAA analysis found.

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Aerial photo from October 2022 of low river levels around Tower Rock on the Mississippi River at Grand Tower, Illinois.
Aerial photo from October 2022 of low river levels around Tower Rock on the Mississippi River at Grand Tower, Illinois.
Photo: Reece Streufert/NOAA NWS Paducah

Recent hot and dry conditions have only fueled the seemingly endless drought that’s pummeling the U.S. for months. October saw higher-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average precipitation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this week.

According to NOAA, the average temperature throughout the U.S. last month was 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). This is about 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average, according to the report. A map of the year from January through October shows above-average temperatures in shades of red and below-average temperatures in shades of blue—and the red clearly dominates.

Higher-than-average temperatures for the U.S. from January to October.
Higher-than-average temperatures for the U.S. from January to October.
Image: NOAA
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The heat last month was record-breaking in some states. Washington saw its warmest October on record, while Oregon experienced its second-warmest October, according to NOAA.

Around the country last month, average precipitation was 1.66 inches (4 centimeters), which was half an inch (1.2 cm) lower than usual. As of the beginning of November, about 62% of the country was experiencing a range of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report. Last month was also the third-driest October on record, per NOAA.

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Large swaths of the U.S. saw below average precipitation in October 2022
Large swaths of the U.S. saw below average precipitation in October 2022
Image: NOAA

NOAA’s report noted the extremely low water levels along the Mississippi River as another sign that the U.S. drought is widespread and affecting everything from business to recreation: “The Mississippi River dropped to its lowest water levels in a decade near Memphis, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, closing off a vital channel to barge traffic at a crucial time of year for crop transportation.”

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Some ships have even gotten stuck along the river due to lower water levels. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to dredge several spots in river to avoid more ships from running aground. Barges on the Mississippi now have to carry about 20% less cargo, which is bad news for the country’s already disrupted supply chains.

Earlier this year, NOAA predicted widespread drought through the spring and summer. By this summer, more than half of the country was experiencing some form of drought conditions. According to a one-month outlook from the Climate Prediction Center that was issued at the end of October, conditions will probably not improve for the Mississippi River this month. Lower-than-average precipitation has been predicted across the Gulf region for most of November.

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Conditions are not likely to improve next year, either. Just last month, NOAA said that the U.S. is expecting a very dry winter; with little snowfall, there won’t be enough snowmelt come spring to replenish reservoirs and critical waterways.