The United States is parched, with more than half of the land area in the lower 48 states experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to a report released today (July 5).
Just under 56 percent of the contiguous United States is in drought conditions, the most extensive area in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The previous drought records occurred on Aug. 26, 2003, when 54.79 percent of the lower 48 were in drought and on Sept 10, 2002, when drought extended across 54.63 percent of this area.
When including the entire nation, the monitor found 46.84 percent of the land area meets criteria for various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent last week. Previous records: 45.87 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.
“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a statement.
“Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced” in the past 12 years. [Extreme Weather Facts: Quiz Yourself]
The monitor uses a ranking system that goes from D0 (abnormal dryness) to D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).
At the lower end of the scale, moderate drought involves some damage to crops and pastures, and low water levels in streams, reservoirs or wells. Areas in exceptional drought would experience widespread crop and pasture losses and water shortages that lead to water emergencies.
Currently, 8.64 percent of the country would meet criteria for either extreme or exceptional drought.