Downpours From Sandy Fail to Ease Drought in U.S.

Despite the torrential rains, and in some cases heavy snows, dumped on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states by Hurricane Sandy, the drought that has gripped much of the nation since last spring continues to plague the Lower 48 States, according to the latest report of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

As of October 30, the entire continental U.S. west of the Mississippi, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest and a couple of patches in Texas, was at least abnormally dry, with large parts of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas in exceptional drought, the very worst category — as they have been for much of the summer and early fall.

The drought has played havoc with agricultural production all summer, devastating corn and soybean crops, and winter wheat and hay are feeling the same pinch. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 62 percent of the nation’s hay crop is in drought — 7 percentage points better than it was in late September, but still very bad. For winter wheat, the area in drought is 65 percent. That’s also an improvement over September numbers, but continuing dryness has delayed the emergence of the plants, and with cold weather coming, the wheat may not have a chance to flourish.

Overall, 60.16 percent of the land area in the Lower 48 was under some level of drought, only a tiny bit less than the previous week’s 61.79 percent. The area under extreme drought or worse stood at 19.04 percent vs. 19.52 percent the week before. And the area suffering from exceptional drought actually grew from 5.84 percent to 5.88 percent.

This is broadly consistent with the medium-term seasonal drought outlook, which forecasts widespread drought in the western half of the nation through the end of the year, at least.

Regionally, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic saw virtually all drought, and even moderate dryness, disappear with Sandy’s deluge — aside from a couple of small pockets in upstate New York and central Virginia. Some Midwestern and Great Plains states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and North Dakota, saw some improvement as well over the previous week. Wyoming ‘s drought receded slightly as well. In Arizona and New Mexico, however, the situation worsened slightly.

Ground zero of the ongoing drought, however, in the very center of the Lower 48, continued to suffer. Extreme drought in Oklahoma expanded slightly last week, according to the Drought Monitor, as some parts of the state have gone 30 days without any rain at all. In Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, the dire situation that has prevailed for months is essentially unchanged.

The nation’s other drought hotspots, which include the southern tip of Texas along with Georgia and Alabama in the Southeast, drought conditions expanded slightly as well.

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