A bizarre weather year bringing extreme drought to typically wet areas has been particularly damaging for Louisiana, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Drought Monitor Map.
A series of uncommon weather occurrences have taken place this year, ranging from a tropical storm unleashing torrential rain in California and causing a flood risk in Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth. In that vein, wildfires have become a concern in Louisiana as widespread, severe drought takes hold of the state, which is known as one of the wettest states in the U.S., second only to Hawaii.
The hot, dry weather is an anomaly in Louisiana, which is known for its swamps and wetlands that are often supplemented by hurricanes and tropical storms making landfall after gaining power in the Gulf of Mexico. The low-lying region often floods, dampening any fuel for wildfires.
However, wildfires are exactly what is harming Louisiana this year. The state has been parched by drought, and high heat in the last month has fueled more than 550 wildfires that have consumed thousands of acres of land.
A year ago, none of Louisiana suffered from drought, but the current U.S. Drought Monitor map tells a much different story. As of last Thursday—the most recent update to the map—30 percent of the state suffered from exceptional drought, the most severe drought marker by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Two-thirds of the state battled extreme drought, with 90 percent of the state falling under the severe drought classification. Only .1 percent, a small band along the northern part of the state, was free from drought.
The map showed that about 4.5 million people—in a state with 4.6 million residents—were living in drought-impacted areas. Governor John Bel Edwards recently issued a warning to residents about the worsening conditions.
“All parts of Louisiana are abnormally dry, with many regions facing exceptional drought,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter, Monday morning with the updated map from the U.S. Drought Monitor. “These conditions continue to make the danger of wildfires extremely high. Please do your part to protect our state and adhere to the burn ban.”
AccuWeather meteorologist Alex DaSilva told Newsweek that most of the state saw one of its top five warmest summers on record from June through August, with some areas, including New Orleans, experiencing the warmest year on record.
DaSilva said Louisiana relies on tropical systems out of the Gulf of Mexico for much of its summer moisture, but the state hasn’t seen any tropical storms or other surges in moisture this summer.
The worst of the drought was found in the southwestern corner, where the Tiger Island Fire near the town of Merryville just east of the Texas border prompted evacuations in late August. The fire is the largest in the state’s recorded history and continues to burn. It has consumed more than 31,000 acres and is only 75 percent contained, according to the Fire Weather and Avalanche Center.
Conditions are rapidly deteriorating in Louisiana. Only three months ago, more than half of the state was free from drought. Last year, the situation was drastically different, with no drought conditions reported. At that time, California was struggling with excessive drought and the wildfires that often accompany dry weather. California is now nearly completely drought-free.
A year ago, none of California was completely free from drought, with more than 16 percent of the state battling exceptional drought. Now, almost 94 percent of the state is free from drought. Only .22 percent is classified as suffering from moderate drought, with about 6 percent experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions.
Louisiana will have to wait a little longer before it receives relief from the drought, but DaSilva said forecasts show that October will bring some much-needed moisture to the area, as well as cooler temperatures.