Maximizing agricultural production on existing cropland is one pillar of meeting future global food security needs. To close crop yield gaps, it is critical to understand how climate extremes such as drought impact yield. Here, we use gridded, daily meteorological data and county-level annual yield data to quantify meteorological drought sensitivity of US maize and soybean production from 1958 to 2007. Meteorological drought negatively affects crop yield over most US crop-producing areas, and yield is most sensitive to short-term (1–3 month) droughts during critical development periods from July to August. While meteorological drought is associated with 13% of overall yield variability, substantial spatial variability in drought effects and sensitivity exists, with central and southeastern US becoming increasingly sensitive to drought over time. Our study illustrates fine-scale spatiotemporal patterns of drought effects, highlighting where variability in crop production is most strongly associated with drought, and suggests that management strategies that buffer against short-term water stress may be most effective at sustaining long-term crop productivity.