Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

What Are the Different Levels of Drought?

We do a lot of reporting on the ongoing (but hopefully abating) Texas drought around here, with a weekly update on drought conditions in the state.

Yesterday’s update showed that drought conditions continue to improve in Texas, with Dallas/Fort-Worth drought-free, and parts of Houston are now out of drought as well. Austin is in the lightest stage of drought, as are El Paso and San Antonio. But the one region that hasn’t seen much relief is West Texas. Many parts of the state there are in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought:

Map and graph by National Drought Monitor

The latest drought monitor shows continued improvement for much of the state

The drought information comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It’s a joint project between the center and several federal partners like the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.

But what’s the difference between “extreme” and “exceptional” drought? Here’s a handy explainer of what those different drought levels mean:

  • Level 0, “Abnormally Dry:” This is the lightest level, which means the area is either “going into drought: short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures” or getting out of drought, which means some lingering water deficits; and pastures or crops not fully recovered,” according to the National Drought Monitor.
  • Level 1, “Moderate Drought:” This level of drought involves “some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; and voluntary water-use restrictions requested,” according to the monitor.
  • Level 2, “Severe Drought:” This level means that “crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; and water restrictions imposed,” the monitor states.
  • Level 3, “Extreme Drought:” This is the second-highest level of drought, with “major crop/pasture losses” and “widespread water shortages or restrictions.”
  • Level 4, “Exceptional Drought:” This is the most intense level of drought. Today, 14 percent of Texas is at this stage of drought. At the peak of the drought in October, 86 percent of the state was at the “exceptional” level. This level involves “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.”

The slow progress out of the drought is unmistakable, as you can see from the three maps below that show the progression of the drought, from its beginning in October 2010 to its peak in October 2011 to today:

Maps by National Drought Center

The progress of the drought: Beginning, Peak and Today


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »