Drought Conditions Improve Across Puerto Rico, Worsen in USVI

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released an update regarding drought conditions across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. Drought Monitor update is released every two months, and according to the most recent report, which was published on June 9, drought conditions in Puerto Rico have improved. In contrast, the drought continues to worsen in the USVI. 

“Drought conditions have improved considerably across Puerto Rico since early April, with only 4% of the island in Moderate Drought (D1) at this time, compared to 45% on the April 6, 2023, U.S. Drought Monitor issuance,” the NOAA update explains. “A small area of D1 [Moderate Drought] remains along the northwest coast. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, conditions continue to persist and deteriorate, with Moderate Drought (D1) on Saint John, Severe Drought (D2) on Saint Thomas, and Extreme Drought (D3) on Saint Croix,” the notice continues. 

Puerto Rico Drought Improvements Due to Late Spring Rainfall 

The NOAA statement mentions that Puerto Rico has fortunately seen significant precipitation over the last couple of months.

Drought monitor graphic showing the USVI and Puerto Rico. As indicated by the legend, conditions have improved across Puerto Rico, but they have worsened in the USVI. (Photo courtesy of Drought.gov update)

“Beneficial rains have been observed across the southern slopes with significant drought improvement noticed. Only 4% of the island is considered to be in drought at this time, with 31% Abnormally Dry (D0). These conditions represent significant improvement since early April,” the report said. 

Still, the region has experienced sweltering temperatures recently, and there are “low soil moisture and below-normal streamflow” across portions of the east side of Puerto Rico, and more rain is necessary. 

A Lack of Rainfall in the USVI  

As Puerto Rico has seen some much-needed respite from the dry weather, the USVI has not been as fortunate.

This graphic shows the intensity of drought in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of Drought.gov)

“Drought continues to worsen on all three islands, despite the fact that May is typically the wettest month of the year outside the September–November wet season,” the report describes. “That was certainly not the case this year, as both short-term and long-term drought plague St. Croix. Rohlsen Airport in St. Croix received only 0.34 inches of rain in May, or about 9% of normal.” 

Historically speaking, 2023 is, so far, one of the driest years on record in the USVI. 

“This is the 3rd lowest total in 64 years of data,” according to NOAA. “The year-to-date total of 5.12 inches through May 31 is the 2nd lowest on record and less than 50% of normal. Only 1977 was drier; hence, the Extreme (D3) Drought conditions, which by definition occur once every 20 to 50 years. St. Thomas was only marginally better, with a year-to-date total of 6.36 inches of rain, or the 6th driest such period in 55 years of data. This is also the lowest YTD total through May 31 since 2008,” the update warns. 

More Precipitation Needed Across the Islands 

Additional rain is needed for both U.S. territories to avoid a more severe drought as the year progresses. With the rainy season beginning in a few months, receiving as much precipitation as possible will be vitally important. 

“Climatologically speaking, rainfall totals in June and July are usually less than in May before the main wet season begins in August,” the update explains. “Precipitation from August to November will be critical as to whether the drought can be broken,” NOAA cautions. 

More information regarding drought conditions, including additional agricultural impacts across the region, is available from the National Integrated Drought Information System website. Additionally, weather alerts will continually be updated on the Source Weather Page. USVI residents and visitors may also choose to sign up for emergency alerts from the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service