Drought refers to a deficiency in precipitation over an extended period, usually a season or more, that results in water shortages that can cause adverse impacts on vegetation, animals, and/or people.

Droughts are a normal and recurrent feature of climate that occurs in virtually all climate zones and usually present as an aberration from normal climatic conditions. Human factors, including water demands and water management, can exacerbate the impacts of a drought on a region.

Drought events are typically slow-onset hazards but can, over time, have very widespread damaging effects on crops, public water supplies, and recreational activities. Long-term, persistent droughts can incidentally increase an area's risk of wildfires. 

Drought Classifications


The degree of dryness or departure of actual precipitation from an expected average or normal amount based on monthly, seasonal, or annual time scales.


The effects of precipitation shortfalls on stream flows and reservoir, lake, and groundwater levels.


Soil moisture deficiencies relative to water demands of plant life, usually crops

Socioeconomic Drought

The effect of demands for water exceeding the supply as a result of a weather-related
supply shortfall.

Source: Multi-Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment: A Cornerstone of the National Mitigation Strategy, FEMA

Drought Monitoring

National Integrated Drought Information Systems

Droughts are currently monitored by the National Integrated Drought Information Systems (NIDIS), a collaborative effort led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The NIDIS provides daily drought monitoring reports along with seasonal drought outlook products. Drought forecast products are produced in 6-month increments showing the potential for development and persistence of drought conditions.

Partners of the NIDIS include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and several academic agencies.

View the National Integrated Drought Information System and the Palmer Drought Severity Index. 

Palmer Drought Severity Index

The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) is a measure of droughts developed by Wayne Palmer that is widely used in the United States for tracking moisture conditions. The PDSI is defined as "an interval of time, generally in months or years in duration, during which the actual moisture supply at a given place rather consistently falls short of the climatically expected or climatically appropriate moisture supply."

The range of PDSI is from -4.0 (extremely dry) to +4.0 (excessively wet), with the central half (-2.0 to +2.0) representing the normal or near-normal conditions.

The PDSI is best used for long-term measurements of drought. For short-term (week-to-week) measurements, it is more useful to use the Crop Moisture Index (CMI), also developed by Wayne Palmer.

View the Crop Moisture Index

Location and Spatial Extent

Drought typically covers a large area and cannot be confined to any geographic or political boundaries. According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index (Figure 5.2), Eastern North Carolina has a relatively high risk for drought hazards as compared to the rest of the State. However, local areas may experience much more severe and/or frequent drought events than what is represented on the Palmer Drought Severity Index map. 

Further, it is assumed that the Southeastern NC Region would be uniformly exposed to drought, making the spatial extent potentially widespread. It is also notable that drought conditions typically do not cause significant damage to the built environment 

Historical Occurrences

The North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council also reports data on North Carolina drought conditions from 2000 to 2019 through the North Carolina Drought Monitor. It classifies drought conditions using the scale set by the US Drought Monitor, which classifies conditions on a scale of D0 to D4. 

D0Abnormally Dry- Short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops 
- Some lingering water deficits
 - Pastures or crops not fully recovered 

D1Moderate Drought- Some damage to crops, pastures 
- Some water shortages developing
- Voluntary water-use restrictions requested 
D2Severe Drought
- Crop or pasture loss is likely 
- Water shortages common
- Water restrictions imposed 
D3Extreme Drought
- Major crop/pasture losses 
- Widespread water shortages or restrictions 
D4Exceptional Drought
- Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses 
- Shortages of water creating water emergencies 

Since 2000, the longest duration of drought (D1-D4) in North Carolina lasted 155 weeks beginning on January 4, 2000, and ending on December 17, 2002. The most intense period of drought occurred the week of December 11, 2007, when D4 affected 66.2% of North Carolina land.

According to the North Carolina Drought Monitor, at least one of the four counties in the Southeastern NC Region had drought occurrences (including abnormally dry) in all of the last 19 years (2001-2019)

According to the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council, the year 2007 was recorded as the driest year by the National Weather Service in more than 100 years in North Carolina and was #1 in the 2007 statewide temperature ranks. Records were set in many areas for the number of days of low humidity and the number of days with temperatures above 90F. As a result of the drought, 59 North Carolina counties were declared disaster areas because of crop losses by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This included Brunswick, New Hanover, Onslow, and Pender. The disaster declaration was made because of major losses for at least one major crop and significant losses on corn, soybeans, hay and pasture, and other forage crops.

Water Conservation

Water conservation is becoming an essential practice in all regions, even in areas where water seems abundant. In addition to possibly saving money on utility bills, water conservation helps prevent water pollution in nearby lakes, rivers, and local watersheds.

Conserving water may also help extend the life of your septic system by reducing soil saturation, and reducing any pollution due to leaks. Overloading municipal sewer systems can also cause untreated sewage to flow to lakes and rivers. The smaller the amount of water flowing through these systems, the lower the likelihood of pollution.

Want to learn more about water conservation and things you can do at home? Click on the links below:

  1. WaterUseitWisely.com: 100 Ways to Conserve Water 
  2. The Water Project: 17 Water Conservation Tips and Tricks

Drought Safety

  1. Before
  2. During


Strategies for drought preparedness focus mainly on water conservation. Make these practices a part of your daily life and help preserve this essential resource.

Visit the Water Conservation section above to learn simple practices to help reduce water waste.

Indoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought

  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink.
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water efficient.
  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In many areas, low-volume units are required by law.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the internal parts). Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Kitchen sink disposals require a lot of water to operate properly

Outdoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought

  • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.
  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use, such as micro and drip irrigation, and soaker hoses.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Mulch also helps control weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
  • Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water.
  • Avoid installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated water.
  • Consider rainwater harvesting where practical.
  • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance.
  • Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
  • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. 
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas that are not used frequently.
  • Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water. Apply fertilizers that contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen.
  • Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool. 
  • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. 
  • Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.