NewsNovember 8, 2012

Drought Still Afflicting Nearly 60 Percent of the U.S.

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Michael D. Lemonick

By Michael D. Lemonick

The total land area in drought over the continental U.S. has receded slightly, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, but more than half of the country is still plagued, to some degree, by the dry spell of historic proportions that began last spring.

U.S. Drought Monitor as of November 6, 2012.
Click on image for a larger version.
Credit: NOAA/USDA.

As of November 6, a little more than a week after Hurricane Sandy dropped torrential rains on the Mid-Atlantic, 59.48 percent of the Lower 48 states were in at least moderate drought, a miniscule drop from the 60.16 percent on October 30. And the area suffering from extreme or exceptional drought — mostly in the nation’s midsection, but also in the Southeast — actually grew, from 19.04 percent to 19.36 percent.

That growth was most pronounced in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, where the local drought — including an area of “exceptional” drought, the most intense category — expanded and intensified.

Conditions also intensified in Kansas and Oklahoma, where exceptional drought has already been unrelenting for months. Nebraska has also been an epicenter of exceptional drought, with more than three quarters of the state falling into that category, and while the situation hasn’t improved there over the previous Drought Monitor report, at least it hasn’t gotten worse. Drought also intensified somewhat in Texas and New Mexico.

According to a recent report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce, drought-related crop losses in the U.S. for the first and second quarter of 2012 totaled approximately $41 billion. That represents part of the total drought cost to the U.S. economy, as the drought is expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters of 2012.

The most recent Seasonal Drought Outlook, issued on Nov. 1 by the Climate Prediction Center, calls for drought conditions to improve in much of Montana, the Upper Midwest, Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri. However, for the heart of the drought region, including the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain states, and the Southwest, the drought is expected to persist straight on through the end of January.

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