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El Niño & the Southwest Drought Status Update

Conditions Favor El Niño this Winter: Significant drought expected to lessen in parts of the Southwest and persist in others.

From October 2017 to September 2018, the Southwestern U.S. experienced below-normal to record-low precipitation.
Long-term precipitation deficits and record-high temperatures have contributed to very low streamflows and reservoir levels.
Conditions favor the development of El Niño this winter, but significant drought is expected to persist in most of Utah and Colorado.


  • Water Year precipitation was below-normal to record-driest.
  • Water Year mean temperature was much above-normal to warmest on record.


  • Utah State of Emergency declared due to drought on 15 October 2018.
  • Hydrologic impacts: Substantial precipitation deficits over the last 12-24 months have led to very low streamflows in western Colorado, northern New Mexico, and Utah. Natural flows on the Rio Grande River dried up in July.
  • Reservoir levels are well-below average in New Mexico and below average in Arizona and Colorado.


  • There is a 70-75% chance of El Niño this winter; it is too soon to predict how strong El Niño may become. Weak to moderate El Niño events have more variation in precipitation than strong El Niño events.
  • The odds of reaching 100% normal precipitation for October 2017 to September 2019 are low.
  • Significant drought expected to persist in Utah and Colorado and northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Special Thanks
This drought status report was developed from a webinar presented on 24 October 2018 by Dr. Gerry Bell, Meteorologist, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, and Dave Simeral, Associate Research Scientist - Climatology, Western Regional Climate Center, Desert Research Institute.

Drought and Climate Outlook Webinars are offered for regional Drought Early Warning Systems.
For more information, visit the calendar.

October 26, 2018