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May was wettest on record, despite drought in West

The month of May was the wettest on record across the United States, but that brought little relief to the drought-stricken West Coast.

The 4.36 inches of precipitation was 1.45 inches above average and the most in May in the 121 years of record keeping, according to the monthly summary from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For the spring season, the precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 9.33 inches, 1.39 inches above average, and the 11th wettest on record.


Much of the U.S. got soaked, with 15 states from the Great Basin to the Mississippi River recording precipitation totals that were well above average. Oklahoma and Texas, which experienced widespread flooding, had their wettest month of any on record. Precipitation totals were more than twice the long-term average.

The rain was in many cases accompanied by hazardous storms, with over 400 preliminary tornado reports, the most since April 2011. The flooding rains and severe weather resulted in dozens of fatalities and widespread property damage.

The wet conditions also saw the area of the contiguous United States hit by drought drop from 37.4 percent at the end of April to 24.6 percent a month later, with improvements seen in the Central and Northern Plains, Upper Midwest and Central Rockies.

Conditions remained dry in the Northeast and Southeast, and drought worsened in the Northwest, where Washington officials last month declaring a drought emergency after the state experienced the worst mountain snowpack in decades.

Drought also remained entrenched out West, including in California, which is in the midst of a historic, four-year dry spell that prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to issue draconian water restrictions in April across the state.

Temperatures, meanwhile, were close to normal after months of record and near-record numbers that have been mostly blamed on rising greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels.


The average temperature was 60.8 degrees, 0.6 degrees above the 20th century average, ranking near the median value in the 121-year record. Much of the East Coast and Northwest were warmer than average, and in the Northeast four states had record warm temperatures. Below-average temperatures were observed across the central U.S.

Alaska also continues to heat up. The Alaska statewide average temperature for May was the warmest in 91 years of record keeping at 44.9 degrees, 7.1 degrees above average. The warmth in Alaska was widespread with several cities breaking records, including Barrow and Juneau.

The Southeast and West were also especially warm, with 11 states above average. Florida had its warmest spring on record, with a temperature of 74.1 degrees, 4.6 degrees above average, and 1.1 degrees warmer than the previous record that occurred in 2012.

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