1988–89 North American drought

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Coordinates: 46°N 94°W / 46°N 94°W / 46; -94 The North American Drought of 1988 was one of the worst droughts ever in the United States. It was a multi-year drought which began in 1988 and continued into 1989. The drought caused $60 billion in damage (between $80 billion and $120 billion for 2008 USD). The drought was the occasion of the worst blowing-dust events since 1977 or the 1930s in many locations in the Middle West including a protracted one which closed schools in South Dakota in late February 1988. During the spring records for lowest monthly total and longest interval between measurable precipitation were set, for example, 55 days in a row without rain in Milwaukee, and during the summer two record-setting heat waves developed, exactly as they did in 1934 and 1936. The concurrent heat waves killed 4,800 to 17,000 people in the United States. During the summer of 1988, the drought led to many forest fires in Western North America, including the Yellowstone fire. At its peak, the drought covered 45% of the United States. This seems minor when compared to the Dust Bowl's 70%, but the drought of 1988 is not only the costliest drought in US history, it was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, prior to Hurricane Katrina. In Canada, drought-related losses added up to about 1.8 billion [1988] dollars.


The Western United States experienced a lengthy drought in the late 1980s. California endured one of its longest droughts ever observed, from late 1986 through early 1991. Drought worsened in 1988-89, as much of the United States also suffered from severe drought. In California, the five-year drought ended in late 1991 as a result of unusual persistent heavy rains, most likely caused by a significant El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991.[1]

Following a milder drought in the Southeastern United States and California the year before, this drought spread from the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Northern Great Plains and Western United States. This drought was widespread, unusually intense and accompanied by heat waves which killed around 4,800 to 17,000 people across the United States and also killed livestock across the United States.[citation needed] One particular reason that the Drought of 1988 became very damaging was farmers might have farmed on land which was marginally arable. Another reason was pumping groundwater near the depletion mark. The Drought of 1988 destroyed crops almost nationwide, residents' lawns went brown and water restrictions were declared in many cities. The Yellowstone National Park fell victim to wildfires that burned many trees and created exceptional destruction in the area. This drought was very catastrophic for multiple reasons; it continued across the Upper Midwest States and North Plains States during 1989, not officially ending until 1990.[2] The conditions continued into 1989 and 1990, although the drought had ended in some states thanks to normal rainfalls returning to some portions of the United States.[3] Dry conditions, however, increased again during 1989, affecting Iowa, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, Kansas and certain portions of Colorado.[4] The drought also affected Canada in certain divisions.[citation needed]


The Drought of 1988 became the worst drought since the Dust Bowl 50 years before in the United States; 2008 estimates put damages from the drought somewhere between $80 billion and almost $120 billion in damage (2008 USD). The state of Minnesota alone saw approximately 1.2 billion dollars in crop losses. The Drought of 1988 was so devastating that in later years it was compared against Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and against Hurricane Katrina. In Canada, drought-related losses added up to about 1.8 billion [1988] dollars.


  1. ^ Water Resources Support Center, Institute For Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1992). Lessons learned from the California Drought (1987-1992). ASCE Publications. p. 122. Retrieved 2013-06-11. 
  2. ^ Billion Dollar Disasters (Northern Plains Drought in Summer 1989) (Report). Live Science. http://www.livescience.com/environment/disaster_chronology_1980_2004.html. Retrieved 2009-04-18.
  3. ^ Robbins, William (1989-09-16). "Drought Stricken Areas Find Relief after Rains". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  4. ^ Improving Drought Management (Report). The University of Nebraska. http://www.bre.orst.edu/Faculty/selker/Oregon%20Water%20Policy%20and%20Law%20Website/Report%20of%20the%20WWPRAC/DROUGHT.PDF. Retrieved 2009-04-19.

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