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U.S. Drought Hangs Tough Through January

People all across the West, Plains and Southeast continued to hold their breath this week, as another seven days of below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures brought little to no reprieve to the historic drought conditions that have plagued these areas since early last spring. Some areas, such as Texas and Georgia, have been suffering from drought since early 2011.

Conditions deteriorated in several places this week, according to the updated U.S. Drought Monitor released on Thursday. The Southeast experienced a stretch of predominantly warm and dry days, which allowed the drought to intensify and expand in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and the Florida Panhandle. Over the past week, the percentage of Florida considered “abnormally dry” jumped to 90.25 percent from 67.53 percent last week. That was consistent with the Seasonal Drought Outlook that forecast dry conditions through spring along portions of the Gulf Coast. (This week's Drought Monitor did not include the rains from the severe thunderstorms that swept across the Southeast on Wednesday.)

U.S. Drought Monitor, January 29, 2013.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NOAA/USDA.

In the West, rain and mountain snow allowed areas near the coast to stay cool and wet. The Southwest shared in some of the precipitation, which brought single-category drought improvements to parts of Arizona and Colorado classified as under “extreme,” “severe,” and “moderate” drought. Other parts of the West were not as lucky, as chronic and severe dryness held on.

The High Plains and Texas, which are epicenter of the 2013 drought, experienced another unseasonably warm week with below-average snowfall. Across the Plains, prospects for any significant improvement look dismal.

“The drought is firmly entrenched as we roll toward February,” said Mark Svboda, one of the authors of the Drought Monitor. “The relative lack of winter in back-to-back years will certainly place a much greater emphasis on well above-normal spring rains if the region is to have any real chance of shaking this drought.”

The drought’s footprint nation-wide showed almost no change, dropping just 0.04 percent in size compared to the previous week. As of Jan. 29, 57.68 percent of the land area in the lower 48 states was classified as being in “severe” drought or worse.

Expansion of drought in Florida, Jan. 22-29
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NOAA/USDA.

A majority of American crops are grown in the Plains and Midwest, and the drought had major impacts on the agricultural sector in 2012. Field corn and soybeans, crops which rarely make their way to the supermarket shelves but are a key part of the feed consumed by livestock, were particularly hard-hit. Accordingly, meat prices nationwide are beginning to rise.

“We’re seeing inflation on the order of 3 to 4 percent for beef, veal, pork, poultry, eggs, and even a little bit higher for dairy,” said Ricky Volpe, a USDA economist in a video released Wednesday.

The price of processed foods, which often contain corn and soybean products, is also expected to rise. However, due to the many steps of processing that these foods undergo, those increases won’t be reflected in retail prices until late 2013, or early 2014, Volpe said.  

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