Drought Classification

The Thinking Behind the Map

Map Basis

Drought intensity categories are based on: 

  • five key indicators (listed in the table below)
  • drought impacts
  • local reports from more than 350 expert observers around the country 


The accompanying drought severity classification table shows the ranges for each indicator for each dryness level. Because the ranges of the various indicators often don't coincide, the final drought category tends to be based on what the majority of the indicators show and on local observations. The analysts producing the map also weigh the indices according to how well they perform in various parts of the country and at different times of the year. Additional indicators are often needed in the West, where winter snowfall in the mountains has a strong bearing on water supplies. It is this combination of the best available data, local observations and experts’ best judgment that makes the U.S. Drought Monitor more versatile than other drought indicators.

What You See

The Drought Monitor summary map identifies general areas of drought and labels them by intensity. D1 is the least intense level and D4 the most intense. Drought is defined as a moisture deficit bad enough to have social, environmental or economic effects.

D0 areas are not in drought, but are experiencing abnormally dry conditions that could turn into drought or are recovering from drought but are not yet back to normal.

We indicate whether primary physical effects are for short- or long-term drought:

  • S = Short-Term, typically less than 6 months (e.g. agriculture, grasslands)
  • L = Long-Term, typically more than 6 months (e.g. hydrology, ecology)

Drought Severity Classification





Possible Impacts

Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI)

CPC Soil
Moisture Model

USGS Weekly Streamflow

Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI)

Objective Drought Indicator Blends (Percentiles)



Going into drought:

  • short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures

Coming out of drought:

  • some lingering water deficits
  • pastures or crops not fully recovered

-1.0 to -1.9

21 to 30

21 to 30

-0.5 to -0.7

21 to 30



  • Some damage to crops, pastures
  • Streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent
  • Voluntary water-use restrictions requested

-2.0 to -2.9

11 to 20

11 to 20

-0.8 to -1.2

11 to 20



  • Crop or pasture losses likely
  • Water shortages common
  • Water restrictions imposed

-3.0 to -3.9

6 to 10

6 to 10

-1.3 to -1.5

6 to 10



  • Major crop/pasture losses
  • Widespread water shortages or restrictions

-4.0 to -4.9

3 to 5

3 to 5

-1.6 to -1.9

3 to 5


Exceptional Drought

  • Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses
  • Shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies

-5.0 or less

0 to 2

0 to 2

-2.0 or less

0 to 2

Short-term drought indicator blends focus on 1-3 month precipitation. Long-term blends focus on 6-60 months. Additional indices used, mainly during the growing season, include the USDA/NASS Topsoil Moisture, Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), and NOAA/NESDIS satellite Vegetation Health Indices.  Indices used primarily during the snow season and in the West include snow water content, river basin precipitation, and the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI). Other indicators include groundwater levels, reservoir storage, and pasture/range conditions. 

Caveats on use of the U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor provides a consistent big-picture look at drought conditions in the United States. Although it is based on many types of data, including observations from local experts across the country, we don’t recommend using it to infer specifics about local conditions. It can certainly be used to identify likely areas of drought impacts, including water shortage, but decision-makers in many circumstances have successfully taken measures to reduce vulnerability to drought. Large urban water systems generally have diverse water supplies and can keep the water flowing in both dry and wet years. The U.S. Drought Monitor is in no way intended to replace assessments or guidance from local water systems as to whether residents should conserve water.

Drought Severity and Coverage Index

The Drought Severity and Coverage Index is an experimental method for converting drought levels from the U.S. Drought Monitor map to a single value for an area, developed by Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota State Climatologist. Using categorical (not cumulative) Drought Monitor data, we compute a weighted sum:

1(D0) + 2(D1) + 3(D2) + 4(D3) + 5(D4) = DSCI


1(33.75) + 2(14.50) + 3(29.26) + 4(21.69) + 5(.39) = 33.75 + 29 + 87.78 + 86.76 + 1.95 = 239

The utility of the DSCI has not yet been widely tested but it provides a convenient way to convert USDM data from categorical to continuous, and to aggregate from spatially specific to geopolitical boundaries.

Aggregation over time

People also ask about how to aggregate the U.S. Drought Monitor over time. With the caveat that reducing a series of spatial depictions to a single numeric value inevitably leads to quite a bit of information loss, we recommend summing the DSCI over n weeks, and then dividing by 500 (the highest possible value for a single week) times n, and using the resulting proportion.

Example for five weeks

(239 + 238 + 293 + 295 + 293) / 500 x 5 = .5432