Drought expanding rapidly, now covers 63% of U.S.

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Drought Monitor It was more of the same triple-digit temperatures and moisture-starved reports from the Midwest last week, prompting the USDA’s Drought Monitor to show the largest one-week jump in extreme drought growth during the report’s 12-year history.

Nationally, drought conditions have grown for the 10th consecutive week. More than 63 percent of the contiguous United States is now considered in moderate to exceptional drought. Specifically, 1,369 counties across 31 states have been declared drought-disaster areas.

"We’ve seen tremendous intensification of drought through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska, and into part of Wyoming and South Dakota in the last week," Brian Fuchs, author of the Drought Monitor, said in the statement.

The Weather Channel noted that the growth of extreme drought in the country expanded this week by 219,000 miles, an area slightly larger than the states of California and New York combined. The percentage of the continental U.S. in severe to exceptional drought set a new high for the second week straight, increasing from 42.23 percent last week to 45.57 this week.

Many states saw dramatic changes in drought conditions. Illinois, now at 70 percent in extreme to exceptional drought, climbed 62 percentage points from 8 percent last week. Nebraska also showed a striking uptick in these brutal drought conditions, jumping from 5 percent to 64 percent.  See how your state is doing here.

Drought costUSA Today The drought, the most severe since the 1950s, is expected to cost at least $12 billion.

"There does seem to be near-unanimous agreement from industry experts that this year's drought losses will surpass the $12 billion recorded in 2011," meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield, a global reinsurance firm, told USA Today.

Currently, 29 percent of the Midwest is in extreme to exceptional drought. Just 13 percent – mainly in northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota – are free from any sort of dryness.

"Right now, it is difficult to say whether we end up reaching the loss levels of 1988 ($40 billion) and 1980 ($20 billion), given that it will be several months for agricultural industries to fully assess the total extent of their losses," Bowen said.

When these losses are adjusted for inflation, the drought cost a whopping $78 billion in 1988 and $56 billion in 1980.

David Friedberg, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based Climate Corporation, estimates that yields for the 160-million acres of corn and soybeans planted across the nation this year will eventually be 30 percent lower than a typical weather year.  

Despite the struggles facing the brutal wrath of Mother Nature, the conditions are still a far cry from the height of the Dust Bowl in July 1934 when 80 percent of the country was in drought conditions.

click image to zoomDrought Dust BowlUSA Today The graphic at right shows that vast differences between the two years, further stifling rumors of the 2012 Midwest drought turning into a repeat of the Dust Bowl. Click the graphic to see the animation.

Instead, Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, suggests instead comparing the current drought with that of 1988.

“Right now the year this matches up best with is 1988,” Fuchs told The Weather Channel. “That was the last real significant drought that hit the Corn Belt as significantly as this one.”

Fuchs also noted that while each state has different moisture deficits, most areas are needing 16 to 18 inches to make up for the lost rainfall.

“We just don’t make those up overnight,” Fuchs said.

In the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, the forecast for drought conditions through October 31 has no positive outlook for the Midwest. The vast majority of these key corn and soybean growing states are expected to remain in a persistent drought.


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