Open weather across much of the country favored summer crop maturation and fieldwork, including harvest efforts and winter wheat planting. By September 12, more than one-third (37 percent) of the U.S. corn was fully mature, while 38 percent of the soybeans were dropping leaves, versus respective 5-year averages of 31 and 29 percent.
Meanwhile, among the 13 major production states that have planted some winter wheat, all except Oregon were at or ahead of the 5-year average pace. Oregon’s delay—4 percent planted, versus 7 percent on average—can be attributed to producers’ hesitancy to sow winter wheat due to drought.
Rain was observed, however, in several regions, including parts of the South and East. Portions of the Gulf Coast region had to contend with Hurricane Nicholas, the eighth Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone to make a U.S. landfall in 2021. Nicholas, briefly a Category 1 hurricane, moved ashore on Texas’ Matagorda Peninsula around 12:30 am CDT on September 14, delivering heavy rain and gusty winds to the middle and upper Texas coast.
Aside from the western Gulf Coast region, some of the heaviest rain (locally 4 inches or more) fell in northern New England, chipping away at lingering, long-term drought. Locally heavy showers also dotted the lower Southeast, including Florida’s peninsula.
Lower Southeastern rainfall was enhanced by the arrival and passage of minimal Tropical Storm Mindy, which made landfall on St. Vincent Island, Florida, at 8:15 pm CDT on September 8. Mindy’s sustained winds were briefly near 45 mph, followed by weakening the following day as the remnant circulation moved northeastward across northern Florida and southeastern Georgia.
Late in the drought-monitoring period, showers and thunderstorms provided some limited drought relief in the upper Great Lakes region.
Elsewhere, fleeting showers dampened some of the driest areas of the West, temporarily aiding wildfire containment efforts. However, hot, dry weather soon returned across the West, limiting the overall benefit of the precipitation. In fact, temperatures broadly averaged above normal across the western half of the country.
Patches of abnormal dryness (D0) stretched from coastal Georgia to the piedmont of Virginia, with generally minor changes from the previous week. On September 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that North Carolina led the region with topsoil moisture rated very short to short (47%) and pastures rated very poor to poor (22%).
While former Hurricane Nicholas soaked the western Gulf Coast region, many of parts of the South continued to experience short-term drying. As a result, abnormal dryness (D0) broadly expanded across Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, extending into northwestern Mississippi and western Tennessee.
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Pockets of moderate drought (D1) also developed. By September 12, Arkansas led the region—according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture—with topsoil moisture rated 69% very short to short, followed by Oklahoma (60%) and Texas (59%). At times, heat has been a factor in rapidly worsening conditions.
In Texas, Borger posted a high temperature of 106°F on the 10th, edging the monthly record of 105°F originally set on September 5, 1995. Elsewhere in Texas, Del Rio noted highs of 100°F or greater on each of the first 10 days in September.
Short-term dryness (D0) has begun to expand across southern and eastern sections of the region, favoring summer crop maturation but reducing topsoil moisture. Meanwhile, long-term drought issues persisted across the upper Midwest, despite some recent rainfall.
By September 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that topsoil moisture was at least one-third very short to short in each Midwestern State except Wisconsin, led by Indiana (47%).
During the week ending September 12, very short to short values increased by more than 10 percentage points in Indiana and Ohio. In contrast, locally heavy rain was observed in the Great Lakes region, particularly across portions of Michigan and Wisconsin.
Elsewhere, lingering impacts from summer drought left 63% of Minnesota’s pastures in very poor to poor condition on September 12.
Short-term dryness and drought has become more apparent in recent weeks across the southern section of the region, including parts of Kansas and Colorado, aggravated by periods of late-summer heat.
A monthly record of 89°F was tied on September 10 in Alamosa, Colorado. Alamosa again reached 89°F on September 11, tying the record first set on September 5 and 6, 2020, while Colorado Springs, Colorado, achieved a new September standard (98°F; previously, 97°F on September 6, 2020).
Across the High Plains, September 10-11 featured consecutive triple-digit, daily-record highs in communities such as McCook, Nebraska (102 and 104°F); Goodland, Kansas (103 and 102°F); and Burlington, Colorado (101 and 100°F). Dodge City, Kansas (105°F on the 11th), achieved a 105-degree reading in September for only the third time on record, following 106°F on September 3, 1947, and 107°F on September 1, 2011.
Farther north, there were some adjustments (mostly improvements) to the drought depiction, primarily in the Dakotas, based on favorable impacts from recent rain events. For example, improvements in topsoil moisture have led to some greening of drought-affected pastures and have encouraged winter wheat producers to begin planting.
Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on September 12 that topsoil moisture was 64 to 71% very short to short in the Dakotas, while rangeland and pastures were rated 77 to 80% very poor to poor, reflecting the long road ahead regarding drought recovery. On the same date, statewide topsoil moisture on the High Plains ranged from 39% very short to short in Nebraska to 79% in Wyoming.
Any benefit from patchy rainfall across northern California and the interior Northwest was largely offset by above-normal temperatures. Still, with rainfall totaling 0.37 inch on September 10, Redding, California, experienced its wettest day since April 25, when 0.39 inch fell. Record-setting rainfall totals for September 10 included 0.63 inch in Ephrata, Washington; 0.61 inch in Redmond, Oregon; and 0.26 inch in Red Bluff, California.
Most areas of the West had no change in the drought depiction; however, changes in the Northwest were a mix of slight improvement and minor degradation, mostly due to assessment of earlier precipitation events, water-supply reports, and vegetation health.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, topsoil moisture was rated 100% very short to short on September 12 in Washington, followed by 96% in Montana, 85% in California, 83% in Oregon, 79% in Wyoming, and 73% in Idaho. Meanwhile, USDA reported that at least one-half of the acreage devoted to rangeland and pastures was rated in very poor to poor condition is eight of the eleven Western States, led by Washington (96%), Montana (88%), and Oregon (87%).
At the end of August, California’s 154 intrastate reservoirs contained 13.8 million acre-feet of water, just 60% of average for the date. Preliminary reports indicated that statewide reservoir holdings were less than one-half of the end-of-August average in Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon.
Meanwhile, several dangerous wildfires remained active across northern California and the Northwest. Nationally, year-to-date wildfires through mid-September had charred more than 5.6 million acres of vegetation. Even as Western wildfire activity has slightly waned in recent days, broad reductions in air quality have continued in parts of the region.
Four of California’s active wildfires—the Dixie (more than 960,000 acres), Caldor (219,000 acres), Monument Fires (215,000 acres), along with the River Complex (187,000 acres)—were among the twenty largest blazes in state history. The Dixie Fire, initially sparked on July 13, has burned a vast area near Lake Almanor and has made several impressive runs while threatening to become the largest wildfire in California history. That blaze has also destroyed more than 1,300 structures.
The Caldor Fire, which was ignited on August 14 just south of Grizzly Flats, California, has destroyed more than 1,000 structures—only the seventeenth wildfire in state history to do so.
Heavy rain chipped away at remaining moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) near the Canadian border, while little change was observed across a lingering area of dryness (D0) in the central Appalachians. Some of the heaviest rain fell in Maine, where Bangor measured 3.34 inches on September 9-10.
However, an ongoing drought impact in Maine was poor pasture condition (rated 39% very poor to poor on September 12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Meanwhile, a small area of moderate drought (D1) persisted on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, due to ongoing low groundwater levels.
The remnants of Nicholas will meander over the central Gulf Coast region during the next couple of days, delivering additional rainfall totaling 3 to 6 inches or more from southeastern Louisiana into western Florida. Farther east, a low-pressure system north of the Bahamas will approach the middle Atlantic Coast and may soon become a tropical cyclone.
Regardless of development, most of the significant tropical impacts should remain offshore. Elsewhere, a pattern change in the Pacific Northwest will result in cooler weather and widespread showers, starting on Friday. During the weekend, cool, showery weather will spread eastward across the nation’s northern tier—reaching northern sections of the Rockies and High Plains—and southward into northern California.
However, generally dry weather will persist from central and southern California to the central and southern High Plains.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for September 21-25 call for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the Great Basin to northern sections of the Rockies and High Plains, while warmer-than-normal weather will prevail along and east of a line from southeastern Arizona to Minnesota.
Meanwhile, below-normal precipitation across much of the western half of the U.S. should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and from the Mississippi Valley eastward, excluding the northern Atlantic States.