U.S. Heartland Sees No End in Sight to Epic Drought

The drought that has been pummeling the U.S. for much of the summer shows no signs of letting up, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. While the overall area under drought was largely unchanged over the previous week’s figures, the nature of the drought has gotten more dire.

Conditions in the nation’s agricultural heartland were especially worrisome: Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois all saw an expansion of the most severe drought categories, “extreme” and “exceptional”; New Mexico also saw a worsening of its already significant dryness.

In fact, the entirety of eight states — Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma – are considered in a drought.

At least moderate drought conditions prevailed over 52.27 percent of the U.S. (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico), down just slightly from 52.6 percent a week earlier, but the area suffering severe drought or worse was up, from 38.12 percent to 38.48 percent.

The more dire category of extreme drought or worse jumped more than a percentage point, to 20.18 percent of the total land area — that’s fully one fifth of the nation experiencing extreme drought — and the amount of the U.S. suffering exceptional drought jumped by about 30 percent, to some 3.51 percent of the nation.

The news wasn’t all bad: parts of South Dakota and Wyoming showed some improvement — but that only ratcheted the emergency down from “exceptional” to “extreme drought.”

As for what to expect over the next few months, the bad news is likely to continue. The latest U.S. seasonal drought outlook, compiled on August 2, suggests that the drought will persist or intensify through the end of October, although an uptick in rainfall should ease the dryness in the Southwest, the southern tip of Texas, and parts of Ohio and Michigan.