The drought of 2021 has raised questions of comparison to other drought years. This is not a simple thing to do. Rainfall measurements vary greatly from location to location, yet we keep rain gauges at only a small number of locations. To compare minimum rainfall totals over a year yields different results for just about every location with a weather record. Other weather elements, such as temperature, certainly play a role. Furthermore, a drought year that occurs in the wake of a previous drought year has worse consequences.
Taking all of these things into account, across our region in general, it is probably fair to say that the water year (October through September) of 1936 shows up the most often in these comparisons, particularly in North Dakota. Further east into Minnesota, the driest years vary greatly, but 1910, 1934 and 1976 appear frequently. Interestingly, 1988 is the worst year nowhere but ranks somewhere in the top few worst years at most locations.