U.S. drought continues to spread, hitting a new record
Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter
The drought has extended across the largest area of the contiguous United States since the 1950s, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.
The area in moderate to exceptional drought now covers 65.45 percent of the lower 48 states, up from 64.82 percent last week, according to the Sept. 25 edition of the monitor.
July 1954 was the last period in which a drought had extended to such extremes in the United States, according to Michael Brewer, a climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center. It is the largest covered area in the Drought Monitor's 12-year history.
"We were at an all-time high last week, and we broke the record again this week," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.
If the area of the contiguous United States that is under abnormally dry -- but not drought -- conditions is included, the percentage rises to 76.59 percent, said Fuchs, a slight decrease from last week's 78.15 percent.
This summer's drought led to much lower expected corn yields than farmers hoped for in spring -- 122 bushels per acre, compared with an optimistic 166 bushels per acre in May, according to the Agriculture Department. It is expected to significantly lower yields of soybeans, another big U.S. cash crop.
The latest edition of the Drought Monitor does show some regular precipitation in the eastern and central- midwestern United States, including the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley, lowering the intensity of the drought in those regions, said Fuchs. However, the drought has intensified over the central and northern High Plains states and the south and central Rockies.
This bodes a somber prediction for winter wheat, which depends on well-timed rains from now until the end of the year.
"I'm guessing many producers are making decisions of even whether or not to plant," Fuchs said. The Drought Monitor is released weekly.