Drought conditions persist in eastern Nebraska, but relief may be on the way

June 19, 2023, 7 a.m. ·

A map of Nebraska showing drought levels with the worst drought in the eastern half of the state
More than three quarters of Nebraska is experiencing drought according to the June 13 Drought Monitor report. (Screenshot courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor)

A historically dry spring in Nebraska has left much of the state parched despite additional rain in recent weeks.

A large portion of east-central Nebraska is in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s report Tuesday, reflecting a 1 in 50-year drought event.

In the report, there was no expansion of drought conditions or increase in intensity. It showed improved conditions in the panhandle and much of that region is now drought-free.

But, more than three-quarters of the state remains in a drought.

Eric Hunt, an agricultural climatologist for the University of Nebraska extension office, said the transition to El Niño, a warm climate pattern over the Pacific Ocean, could favor more precipitation later in the summer and during the fall.

The latest seasonal precipitation outlook from the National Weather Service predicts an above-average chance of rainfall for July, August and September across most of Nebraska.

Precipitation deficits across parts of east-central and northeast Nebraska are the worst since the 1950s and Hunt said there is a long way to go before the drought situation improves.

“We would probably have to go back almost 70 years in a lot of places to find one, two-year deficits that would be on par or worse than we have now,” Hunt said.

Lincoln saw the eighth driest April and second driest May in 137 years, according to Erika Hill with the Lincoln Department of Transportation and Utilities.

“The aquifer did not replenish like it normally does every year,” Hill said.

The low aquifer levels led the capital city into phase one of its Water Management Plan this month. Residents living in single-family or duplex housing with an even address are encouraged to only use outdoor water on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Those with odd addresses are advised to only use outdoor water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The water conservation guidelines are voluntary in phase one, but they could become mandatory if conditions deteriorate. Hill said Lincoln’s outdoor water use in the summer is nearly triple the amount used during the winter.

“We're really just wanting everyone to be able to contribute a little bit, do their part and find ways to reduce their outdoor water use,” Hill said. “And then we all will be able to make sure that we have enough water for our essential services all throughout the summer.”