July turned out to be an exceptional month of triple threats for the western U.S., with record heat, drought and raging wildfires. The nation as a whole had a hot July — with extreme rainfall in areas already saturated while sparing others that needed it most.
Here’s a climate snapshot of the month of July and the year to date, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information:
Climate by the numbers
The average temperature last month across the contiguous U.S. was 75.5 degrees F (1.9 degrees above average), placing July 2021 in the 13th-warmest spot in the 127-year record.
California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington had their hottest Julys on record. Five other states — Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — saw their top-10 hottest Julys.
The average precipitation for last month was 3.36 inches (0.58 of an inch above average), making it the sixth-wettest July on record. Precipitation was above average across much of the Northeast, Southeast and South, as well as portions of the Midwest, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. New York and Massachusetts had their wettest July on record.
Meanwhile, much of the Northwest and Northern Tier, as well as parts of the central Plains, Midwest and central Appalachians, had below-average precipitation. Minnesota and Washington saw their second- and fourth-driest July on record, respectively.
Year to date | January through July 2021
The year-to-date (YTD) average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 53.0 degrees F (1.8 degrees above the average), making it the 14th-warmest YTD on record. California, Nevada and Oregon each saw their warmest YTD.
The first seven months of 2021 saw an average precipitation of 18.00 inches (0.09 of an inch below average), which ranked in the middle third of the record. Mississippi had its sixth-wettest YTD, while Minnesota and North Dakota saw their third driest.
More notable climate events from the July report
- Wildfires raged across the West: Wildfire activity exploded across the drought-stricken portions of the West, especially the Northwest. As of July 31, 37,650 fires had burned through nearly 3 million acres of the U.S. during the first seven months of 2021 — nearly 1 million more acres than were consumed by this time last year. As of July 31, the largest fire across the U.S., Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, had burned more than 413,000 acres and was 56% contained. The second-largest fire, the Dixie Fire in Northern California, consumed more than 240,000 acres and was 24% contained.
- Drought was down slightly: Approximately 46% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought by the beginning of August, down 1% from the end of June, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report. Despite this, drought intensified and expanded across portions of the northern Plains, northern Rockies and Northwest, and from the Great Basin to the Pacific Coast. More than 90% of 11 western statesoffsite link — Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — were experiencing some level of drought by the end of July.
- Elsa struck the U.S.: Hurricane Elsa formed in early July and made landfall as a tropical storm in Florida on July 7. The storm brought flooding, tornadoes and damage to portions of Georgia and the Carolinas, and flooding to parts of the Northeast. Elsa was the earliest fifth-named storm on record for the Atlantic basin.