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This Global Drought Narrative is based on global drought indicators available at the Global Drought Information System, and media reports summarized by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Global Drought Overview

Overview: GDIS global indicators revealed a mix of precipitation anomalies in May 2024. Wet (above-normal) conditions brought limited relief to some drought areas across the world, especially Canada, Southwest Asia, and southern parts of Central America, but the month was dry in parts of Africa, Australia, South America, northern and eastern Europe, and South Asia, with warm temperature anomalies dominating. The precipitation that fell was not enough to make up for months, even years, of deficient precipitation. Southern Africa experienced the driest May and second driest January-May, while the entire continent of Africa had the fourth driest May (according to ECMWF ERA5 Reanalysis data) and warmest May through June-May (all 12 time periods) (based on NOAA/NCEI data). South America has been plagued by record heat and dryness for several months to years — while May 2024 ranked 11th warmest and 30th driest, the continent still had the warmest April-May through June-May (all 11 time periods) and driest June-May (12-month period).

A significant portion of the world's agricultural lands was still suffering from low soil moisture and groundwater levels — especially in the Americas, Africa, eastern Europe, and parts of Asia — and satellite observations showed stressed vegetation on all continents. The GEOGLAM Crop Monitor indicated that agriculture was most threatened in parts of Central and South America, Africa, western Europe, southwest Russia, southern Australia, and southeast Asia, as well as parts of the North American Plains/Prairies. The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNet) revealed significant food insecurity continuing in parts of Central and South America, Southwest Asia, and much of Africa.

The World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) "State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2023" report noted that hunger and disease are rising in Latin America after a year of record heat, floods and drought. The study found that the region has probably suffered tens of thousands of climate-related deaths in 2023, at least 21bn USD (17bn Euro) of economic damage and "the greatest calorific loss" of any region. The Associated Press reported that the United Nations' World Food Programme warned that southern Africa was the "epicenter of the crisis" after a cycle of floods and drought has battered the region over the last three years. Three countries — Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia — are the worst affected and have seen between 40-80% of their staple corn crops wiped out by drought this season, leaving millions impacted. EUNews reported that the European Environment Agency's latest report ("Responding to climate change impacts on human health in Europe: focus on floods, droughts and water quality") sounds the alarm that climate change "will further increase people's exposure to extreme weather events, with serious health consequences." Agricultural land values risk collapsing, especially in Italy. The Guardian reported that more than a third of the Amazon rainforest is struggling to recover from drought, according to a new study that warns of a "critical slowing down" of this globally important ecosystem. The signs of weakening resilience raise concerns that the world's greatest tropical forest — and biggest terrestrial carbon sink — is degrading towards a point of no return. One glimmer of good news was noted by World Cargo News and Safety4Sea — they reported that the Panama Canal seems to be returning to its pre-drought condition — however, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) anticipates it may not fully regain capacity until early 2025. The prolonged drought had disrupted passage schedules, leading to severe restrictions for ships traversing the canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for over a year, impacting global trade.

Europe

Much of Europe was warmer than normal in May with drier-than-normal conditions across eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Iberian Peninsula, and wetter-than-normal conditions in between, based on the 1-month Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI). Continent-wide, Europe had the third warmest May in the 1910-2024 NOAA/NCEI temperature record and 28th wettest May in the 1940-2024 ECMWF ERA5 Reanalysis precipitation record. Precipitation in earlier months reduced the intensity of the dryness on the 2- to 6-month SPI maps, although dry conditions lingered in parts of Scandinavia through 12 months and dryness became evident in the Mediterranean basin beginning at 3 months and extending in time to the 60-month time scale. At 72 months, the SPI maps showed dry conditions extending from the Mediterranean region into north-central Europe. Much of the last year to several years were unusually warm across Europe — all ten time periods from March-May (last 3 months) back through June-May (last 12 months) were the warmest such periods in the NOAA/NCEI record. The above-normal temperatures enhanced evaporation, especially in northern and eastern Europe as seen on the 1-month Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) and Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) maps, and Europe-wide on the longer-term Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) maps. The SPEI maps show more intense and widespread drought than the SPI maps, with most of Europe in some level of drought at 24 to 48 months. Satellite observations (GRACE) indicated depleted soil moisture continued across the eastern half of Europe, as well as along the Mediterranean coast and in Scandinavia. GRACE data also indicated depleted groundwater in these areas. However, satellite observations of vegetative health (Vegetative Health Index, VHI) revealed some hint of stressed vegetation in Scandinavia and the Mediterranean coast, but otherwise generally healthy vegetation, due likely to the recent precipitation. The European Combined Drought Indicator showed drought warnings across much of eastern and northern Europe with the most severe drought in the southeastern part of the Mediterranean basin.

According to media reports (The Associated Press), Spain's Catalonia region will ease restrictions on water use for a wide area including Barcelona after recent rainfall palliated a prolonged drought. Catalonia declared a drought emergency in February when its reservoirs fell under 16% capacity after nearly three years of below-average rainfall. But steady rain in recent weeks has boosted reserves to nearly 25%. Spain's reservoirs overall are at 66% full. L'Unione Sarda.it reported that months without rain are affecting the wheat crop in Sardinia. In the Middle and Lower Campidano and Trexenta, among the most important areas dedicated to cereal cultivation, they are already dealing with a losing season (yet another) for growers who, a few weeks after the start of the harvest, fear the verdict of combine harvesters: a harvest more than halved is expected.

Asia

May was dry across western Russia; central, southern, and eastern Siberia; eastern China, and northern parts of India and Pakistan. On the other hand, Southwest Asia was wetter than normal this month. May temperatures were cooler than normal in central Russia but warmer than normal to the west, east, and south. Continent-wide, Asia had the 9th warmest and 25th wettest May in the NOAA/NCEI and ECMWF ERA5 records, respectively. A similar precipitation anomaly pattern is evident on the SPI maps at the 2- and 3-month time scales, although it is a bit muted. At 3 months, Southwest Asia had some dryness, which grew at 6 to 9 months; the dry areas also shifted to western China and northern India. At longer time scales (12 to 72 months), dryness intensified and expanded in Southwest Asia, expanded from northern India to Thailand, and continued across western China to Mongolia. Asia experienced unusually warm temperatures for the last several years, with the 5 time periods from October-May through June-May ranking second warmest. The anomalously warm areas in May increased evapotranspiration, as seen on the ESI and EDDI maps, and intensified and enlarged the drought areas, as seen on the SPEI map. The SPEI maps show more intense and expansive drought areas in eastern and southern regions of Asia at 2- to 12-month time scales, and especially in Southwest Asia and northern Siberia at longer time scales (24-48 months). Satellite observations (GRACE) showed low soil moisture, as well as low groundwater, across much of Southwest and Southeast Asia, northern India, northeast China, Mongolia, and large parts of Russia. Satellite observations (VHI) revealed poor vegetative health across Southwest Asia, northern India, Southeast Asia, and parts of central Asia and northern Siberia. Drought conditions were confirmed over northern, eastern, and southwestern parts of India on the India Drought Monitor, covering about 24.1% of the nation at the end of May, which is less than last month. Drought was indicated across parts of Micronesia and in the Polynesian islands south of the equator, especially at 1 to 3 months and with less intensity at 6 to 12 months, on the NIWA Island Climate Update maps.

According to media reports (The Hindu), people in southwest India, who are distressed over drought and desperate to keep their areca plantations alive in parts of Ajjampura taluk in Chikkamagaluru district, have resorted to a rather macabre superstitious practice of exhuming the bodies of those who had leukoderma (vitiligo) from graveyards and consigning them to flames, believing that it brings good rain. The Times of India noted that live water storage levels in the arid region of Marathwada have plummeted to just 9.6% of capacity. Business Insider reported that a weekslong drought across parts of southeast Asia has killed hundreds of thousands of fish in a reservoir in Vietnam and pushed a key metric for coffee prices to record levels. These are just two indicators of the kind of havoc the climate is wreaking on people and the economy here. The Bangkok Post noted that, in Thailand, locals on Phi Phi Island have not had enough fresh water for their needs for over two months, leading to the consideration of temporary closures of some business operations if the dry spell continues. The Borneo Bulletin added that, amidst an ongoing drought, Thailand's durian production faces a dire prognosis this year, with predictions suggesting a significant decline. The Philippine News Agency reported that the Philippine provincial government has begun distributing water containers to areas affected by the drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon to urge residents to conserve water.

Africa

Dry conditions continued in May across southern and central Africa as well as the northwest coast. May temperatures were much warmer than normal across virtually the entire continent. May 2024 ranked as the warmest and 4th driest May on record, continent-wide, with southern Africa having the driest May and second driest January-May. The ESI and especially EDDI showed above-average evapotranspiration across almost the entire continent. Africa has been plagued by excessive heat for several years, with all 12 time periods from May back through June-May ranking as the warmest on record for the continent, and this is reflected by excessive evapotranspiration at all 12 time scales on the EDDI maps. The dry areas in the south, central, and northwest regions expand on the SPI maps to cover more of northern Africa at 2 to 12 months, with parts of east-central Africa wet at these time scales. By 9 months, the driest areas on the SPI maps are South Africa and the Maghreb region, especially the northwest coast. At 24 months, wet conditions bisect the continent from east to west; the north and south become only drier at longer time scales. When the effects of temperature (evapotranspiration) are taken into account (SPEI maps), dry conditions are more intense and cover virtually the entire continent at 1 to 12 months; dryness on the SPEI maps is more intense and covers larger areas than on the SPI maps at longer time scales. Models and satellite (GRACE) observations revealed persistent low soil moisture and groundwater in the Maghreb and adjacent western regions, and over much of central to southern Africa. Satellite observations of vegetative health (VHI) revealed stressed vegetation over virtually the entire continent, with the most severe conditions in the north and southwest. An analysis by the African Flood and Drought Monitor estimated 28% of the continent in drought at the end of May, which was the same as last month, and included 14 countries in drought.

According to media reports (The Associated Press), the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that about half of Zimbabwe's population urgently needs food and water after the country's worst drought in four decades. With about 7.6 million of the country's 15 million people needing "lifesaving and life-sustaining" humanitarian assistance, the U.N. humanitarian agency launched an appeal for $430 million to help those most in need. Business Day added that the Zimbabwean government forecasts staple maize production will drop 72% in the 2023/24 season, worsening the country's food situation due to an El Niño-induced drought. According to the government's crop assessment report, estimated maize production is 634,699 tonnes for the season, representing a 72% decrease from the previous season. Project Hope reported that severe drought in Zambia has impacted nearly half the population and has affected health care, food security, water availability, and electricity. This has been the driest agriculture season in over 40 years, exacerbated by the climate crisis and El Niño. In February 2024, Zambia President Hakainde Hichilema declared the drought a national emergency, calling for international support to prevent a catastrophic hunger crisis. Down To Earth added that devastating levels of hunger following a protracted period of drought has pushed up crime rates in Zambia's hitherto "crime-free" rural areas. The social condition is unprecedented and a cause for concern, according to observers and victims. RFI reported that Namibia's unique desert-adapted lions, which eke out a living in the harsh Kunene Region in the country's north-west, have declined up to 21 percent over the past year due to a drought-induced drop in prey and conflict with humans.

Australia

Tasmania, the northeast and southern coasts of Australia, and the western fourth of Australia, as well as much of New Zealand, were drier than normal during May, according to the SPI. Monthly temperatures were warmer than normal in southwestern and northeastern Australia. According to the ECMWF ERA5 Reanalysis, Australia had the 14th driest and 8th warmest May, but the last 12 months (June 2023-May 2024) ranked as the second warmest and 16th driest such period. The combination of dry and hot weather increased evapotranspiration (as seen on the ESI and EDDI maps) and intensified drought conditions (according to the SPEI), especially in the west and south. Dry conditions in the west, south, and northeast Australia, as well as Tasmania, persisted on the 2- to 12-month SPI maps, although not as intense in the northeast, but got more intense along the west coast at 9 to 12 months. Dryness persisted in the west and south at longer time scales, and even expanded into central Australia on the 72-month SPI map. When increased evapotranspiration due to abnormally warm temperatures is included, the SPEI maps show more intense dryness (especially in the west) with dry conditions also evident in central Australia at 6- to 48-month time scales. Dry soils were evident along the southern to southwest coast of Australia, including Tasmania, as well as New Zealand, according to GRACE soil moisture data. The GRACE data showed low groundwater in these areas and in parts of central Australia. Satellite observations (VHI) revealed stressed vegetation across much of the continent, especially the west and southern regions, as well as parts of the east. These moisture anomaly patterns were confirmed by Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Australian Combined Drought Indicator analyses, which also showed low streamflows in parts of the west, in southeast Australia, and in Tasmania; low water storage levels were indicated in some areas in the east, south, and west, and in Tasmania; and soil moisture was low in large parts of the west, south, and Tasmania, with record low soil moisture for this time of year along much of the east coast of the Bight (coast of South Australia). Parts of New Zealand, especially central areas, were in drought at the end of May, based on the New Zealand Drought Monitor map prepared by the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

South America

The May SPI map showed dry conditions across a large part of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, with dryness extending across parts of Paraguay into Peru as well as in Venezuela. May temperatures were cooler than normal over Argentina and Chile, but much warmer than normal to the north. In spite of the cooler temperatures to the south, the continent still had the 11th warmest May in the NOAA/NCEI record. The ECMWF ERA5 data ranked the month as the 30th driest continent-wide. Beneficial precipitation in April reduced the size of the dry areas at the 2- to 3-month time scales, but significant dryness was still visible on the SPI maps from Peru to southern Brazil. At 6 to 12 months, the dry areas intensified and expanded to cover much of Brazil, much of the northern coast of South America, and parts of southern South America. Dryness intensified and expanded in Argentina and Chile on the SPI maps at longer time scales. Temperatures have been persistently warmer than normal for much of the continent for the last several years, with South America having the warmest April-May through June-May (all 11 time periods) in the NOAA/NCEI record. The heat increased evapotranspiration, as seen on the ESI and EDDI maps, in central to northern South America at 1- to 3-month time scales, and across the continent at longer time scales. The increased evapotranspiration intensified and expanded the drought areas on the SPEI maps, with most of the continent severely dry at 24- to 48-month time scales. Satellite observations (GRACE) show dry soils and low groundwater across huge swaths of South America — from the northern coast to southern Brazil, across southern Peru and Bolivia to central Argentina, and over southern Chile and Argentina. Satellite analysis (VHI) revealed poor vegetative health in the countries along the west coast and from central Argentina to central Brazil. Drought was confirmed across most of Brazil on the Brazilian Drought Monitor (National Water Agency map, CEMADEN map), in Bolivia on the Bolivian Drought Monitor, in Chile and Argentina on the Southern South America Drought Information System (SISSA) maps, and in western South America countries on the CIIFEN Western South America Regional Drought Monitor. The SISSA 3-month drought index indicated 22.4% of Chile and Argentina was in drought or abnormally dry at the end of May, which is more than last month, while the 6-month drought index had 31.4% of the region in drought or abnormally dry, which is less than last month. CEMADEN statistics indicated that, in Brazil, 279 municipalities had at least 40% of their agro-productive areas (agricultural activities and/or pastures) impacted by drought in May; last month the number was 227 municipalities.

According to media reports (Context News), worsening droughts in Brazil are depleting Amazon riverways, raising fears that road paving could fuel deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Reuters added that Brazil's Amazon rainforest has experienced its largest blazes on record in the first four months of the year. A record drought in the Amazon rainforest region, driven by the El Niño climate phenomenon and global warming, has helped contribute to dry conditions fueling fires this year. Phys.org reported that a study conducted by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil and reported in an article published in Nature Communications shows that the Cerrado, Brazil's savanna biome is experiencing the worst drought for at least 700 years.

North America

In North America, the SPI showed May as drier than normal across most of Mexico, southern Florida; parts of the central and southwestern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) and western, southeastern, and northern Canada; as well as the northern half of Central America and parts of the Caribbean. Southern, eastern, and northern parts of North America were warmer than normal. Continent-wide, May 2024 ranked as the 5th warmest and 32nd wettest May. Unusual warmth characterized most of the last 12 months, with the periods February-May and December-May through June-May (all 8 time periods) ranking warmest on record. The SPI maps show that dryness persisted from the southern Plains and southwestern CONUS to Central America, across western to northern Canada, and from southeast Canada to New England, at the 2- to 6-month time scales. The SPI maps show most of Canada dry at 9 to 48 months, most of Mexico and Central America dry at 12 to 60 months, and in the U.S. — dryness across the Mississippi River Valley at 12 to 24 months, in the southern to central Plains at 24 to 48 months, and in parts of the West at 48 to 72 months. The unusually warm temperatures increased evapotranspiration from Mexico to Central America, the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS, and western Canada, as seen on the May ESI map. The EDDI maps show enhanced evapotranspiration across Mexico and Central America, eastern and northern parts of Canada, and to a lesser intensity across much of the CONUS for May and April-May; the 3- and 6-month EDDI maps have evapotranspiration intensifying across the eastern half of the CONUS; and the 9- to 12-month EDDI maps have enhanced evapotranspiration across the entire continent except Alaska and the western third of the CONUS. The unusual warmth/evapotranspiration is reflected on the SPEI maps by more intense and expansive drought, especially in Mexico to Central America at 1- to 3-month time scales, and in Canada at 6- to 48-month time scales.

According to NOAA/NCEI national analyses, the CONUS had the 13th warmest and 13th wettest May in the 1895-2024 record, with moderate to exceptional drought covering 12.6% of the CONUS (10.5% of the 50 states and Puerto Rico), which is less than a month ago. Moderate to exceptional drought covered 76.0% of Mexico at the end of the month, which is more than a month ago. In Canada, 20.9% of the country was in moderate to exceptional drought, and 45% was classified as abnormally dry (D0) or in moderate to exceptional drought (D1-D4), both of which are less than last month. Satellite (GRACE) observations revealed extensive areas of low groundwater across much of western to central Canada and parts of eastern Canada, the southern Plains of the U.S. to interior Pacific Northwest, much of Mexico, and almost all of Central America. GRACE observations of soil moisture indicated dry soils across those same areas, except slightly less in Canada and the CONUS. Satellite analysis (VHI) indicated poor vegetative health across parts of Canada and the U.S., and most of Mexico to Central America. The North American Drought Monitor product depicted drought across the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, southern Florida, central Plains, and southern Plains to Southwest in the CONUS; across much of western to central Canada; and across most of Mexico. The Caribbean Regional Climate Center SPI maps showed areas of short-term (1 to 6 months) dryness across the central to southern parts of the Caribbean Islands, and long-term (12 to 24 months) dryness over northern, central, and southern parts.

In Canada, the AAFC (Agriculture and AgriFood Canada) reported that abnormally dry to drought conditions affected 59% of the country's agricultural landscape, which is less than last month. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics indicated that drought affected approximately 8% of barley production, 5% of corn production, 5% of cotton production, 54% of sorghum production, 3% of soybean production, 3% of spring wheat production, 25% of winter wheat production, 7% of hay acreage, 12% of the cattle inventory, 8% of the milk cow inventory, and 10% of the sheep inventory at the end of May. All of these (except for sorghum) are lower than they were last month. The USDA reported that 18% of the nation's winter wheat crop, 4% of the corn crop, 2% of the spring wheat crop, and 19% of the pasture and rangeland were in poor to very poor condition, and 15% of the nation's topsoil and 17% of the subsoil were short or very short of moisture (dry or very dry).

According to media reports (Yale Climate Connections), drought is fueling wildfire concerns as Canada braces for another intense summer. They noted that last summer's wildfires burned an unprecedented 18.5 million hectares of land — more than seven times the historic average. Canada's warmest ever winter followed, with low to non-existent snowpack in many areas, and ongoing drought is raising fears that this summer will see more of Canada's forests and wildland urban interface go up in flames. Reuters and The Associated Press added that the Canadian National Railway suspended service on its network between Fort St. John and Fort Nelson in British Columbia and north of High Level, Alberta due to wildfires this month. Strong winds have fueled an out-of-control blaze which has forced the evacuation of thousands of people from Fort Nelson. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation noted that warm water and low stream flows in July 2023 led to the die off of 84,000 fish in the Cowichan River on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Conditions this year are shaping up similarly, posing a threat to the salmon, trout and other fish. Border Report noted that the Rio Grande River was very depleted at the southern Texas town of Zapata, which depends on the river for its water supply. The Associated Press (AP) reported that Mexico was hit by hours of rolling blackouts in early May due to high temperatures and temporary drops in electrical power generation. Power generation also dropped unexpectedly due to other reasons including lower output from hydroelectric dams, which have been affected by drought, and clouds affecting solar power. The AP added that almost 40% of the Mexico's dams are below 20% of capacity, and another 40% are between 20% and 50% full. Mexico City has been forced to reduce water supplies because the reservoirs that feed the city are drying up. Some stores are running out of mineral water. Axios noted that the worsening drought in Mexico has increased the danger that an axolotl species could soon go extinct. Why it matters: Also called the axolote or ajolote, the amphibian was considered a god by the Aztecs and has long fascinated scientists in part because it is capable of regrowing limbs. Reuters reported that threatened howler monkeys have been dropping dead from trees in Mexico's southeastern tropical forests in recent weeks amid a nationwide drought and heat waves that have sent temperatures soaring across much of the country.

AFP/Yahoo! News reported that Costa Rica introduced rationing due to drought — dams that feed the country's hydro-electric plants were low due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, causing the government to limit access to electricity (the country relies heavily on hydro-generation for electricity). The Caribbean National Weekly noted that, as the dry season intensifies in 2024, Grenada finds itself grappling with significant water scarcity issues, prompting the National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) to enforce strict water usage restrictions. Starting in mid-May, these measures aim to reduce water wastage and promote conservation efforts across the island. RFI reported that the French Caribbean department of Martinique has declared a drought crisis for the first time in its history. The lack of rain has threatened drinking water, while authorities have imposed heavy water restrictions.


Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Global Drought Narrative for May 2024, published online June 2024, retrieved on July 20, 2024 from https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/global-drought/202405.