September 13, 2012 / 6:30 PM / 5 years ago

Drought area expands in U.S., now most extensive this summer

* U.S. Plains, South see hot, dry conditions persist
    * Rains help parts of Missouri, Ohio, Illinois
    * Some rain relief forecast for Plains, Midwest

    By Carey Gillam
    KANSAS CITY, Mo., Sept 13 (Reuters) - Hot and dry conditions
continued to plague large parts of the U.S. Plains and southern
states as the worst U.S. drought in over five decades expanded
its grip on some key farming states. 
    At least "moderate" levels of drought have now enveloped
more than 64 percent of the contiguous United States, up from
63.39 percent the week before, according to the Drought Monitor,
a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic
scientists.
    "This is the greatest extent of drought we've seen all
summer," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the 
National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. "The drought is easing in the east, but we're
seeing more of it expand in the Central Plains, Rockies and
Dakotas."
    The Drought Monitor's measurement of the worst level of
drought, "exceptional", expanded to 6.23 percent of the land
area in the contiguous U.S. for the week ended Sept. 11, up from
6.14 percent in the prior week.
    The drought has been exacerbated by long stretches of high
temperatures. 
    "That has been the kicker all summer, how hot it has been,"
said Fuchs.
    Conditions in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado,
and Iowa grew more dire, according to the Drought Monitor.
    Kansas, in particular, remained almost entirely parched,
with more than 60 percent of the state in exceptional drought
and more than 88 percent in extreme drought. 
    The climatologists noted "widespread expansion" of severe
drought in western North Dakota and said the percent of normal
precipitation has held below 50 percent throughout most of the
Northern Plains over the last month. 
    On a bright note, the levels of drought considered "severe"
and "extreme" did ease in the most recent week across the
nation. The portion of the contiguous United States suffering
from at least "severe" drought fell to 41.81 percent from 42.48
percent.
    The area experiencing "extreme" levels of drought dropped to
21.09 percent from 21.45 percent.
    Arkansas, one of the hardest hit states, saw drought start
to recede as the percentage of the state in severe or worse
drought dropped to 75.72 percent from 78 percent. Missouri,
likewise, saw improvement, as did Illinois.

   

    This year's persistent high heat and lack of soil moisture
have decimated the U.S. corn crop, and threaten the same to the
soybean crop. Dry soils are also worrying wheat farmers who now
must seed a new winter wheat crop.
    The U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday estimated that
the U.S. corn crop will be the lowest in six years and soybeans
the lowest in nine years due to drought losses.
    Some rainfall relief may be coming, particularly to areas of
Texas and Oklahoma. Portions of drought stricken Colorado,
Kansas and Iowa are expected to receive some modest relief,
forecasters said. 
    

 (Editing by Carol Bishopric)

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