Area in extreme drought increases by size of Texas, report says
The map, released Thursday, shows the intensity levels of the drought in all parts of the country.
July 26th, 2012
05:13 PM ET

Area in extreme drought increases by size of Texas, report says

The portion of the country with some level of drought increased only slightly in the last week, but areas at risk for major crop losses and widespread water shortages jumped significantly, according to a report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Areas of the contiguous United States under extreme or exceptional drought conditions increased by an area roughly the size of Texas - from 13.5% of the land to 20.5% - in the past seven days, according to the Drought Monitor report released Thursday.

"It's getting to the point where some of the (agricultural) damage is not reversible" in the extreme-drought areas, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the center. "The damage is done, and even with rain, you're not going to reverse some of these problems, at least not this growing season."

The areas newly put into the extreme category are spread over many states, including parts of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and South Dakota. (See last week's map, for comparison with the one above.)

Meanwhile, the portion of the Lower 48 states under moderate or worse drought conditions rose slightly in the last week - from 63.54% to 63.86% - putting the contiguous United States in the largest drought by area in the report's 12-year history. This is the fourth consecutive week the Lower 48 set a Drought Monitor record in this category.

A week of very hot and very dry conditions - coming after roughly two months of similar weather - pushed more areas into the extreme or exceptional categories, Fuchs said.

Areas in the "extreme" drought category - the third most severe of four classifications - could see major crop and pasture losses with widespread water shortages, according to the center.

The lower two drought classifications are called moderate (some damage to crops and pastures possible, with some water shortages developing or imminent) and severe (crop or pasture losses likely, with water shortages common).

The highest classification, exceptional, means the area is at risk for widespread crop and pasture losses, with water emergencies.

Unrelenting heat and little to no rainfall across the nation’s heartland are making conditions difficult to overcome. Every state in the country, plus Puerto Rico, has at least a small area shown as abnormally dry or worse, Fuchs said.

Many of the areas that saw the drought intensify in the past week make up the country's corn and soybean belt - disheartening news for those that have already been tremendously affected.

Almost 90% of U.S. corn is grown in an area experiencing drought, and even recent and forecast rainfall will be too late to significantly help this year’s crop. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack this week designated 76 additional counties in six states as drought disaster areas, bringing the total for the 2012 crop year to 1,369 counties across 31 states.

He also announced Monday that his department will cut the interest rates on emergency loans for farmers hard-hit by the drought to 2.25% from 3.75%.

On Thursday, Iowa's governor declared a disaster emergency to help farmers deal with the drought.

"The assistance comes in the form of a suspension of state laws and regulations affecting the transport of hay, straw and stover," a release from Gov. Terry Branstad said. "The drought has destroyed or depleted sources of these products that are necessary for livestock production and feed."

It’s not just crops that are suffering from the heat and lack of rainfall. A July 22 report from the Department of Agriculture said that 55% of the country’s pasture and range land was in poor to very poor condition. This is the highest percentage ever noted and is likely to profoundly hurt the nation’s cattle and dairy farmers.

Reports like this could continue, because U.S. forecasts don't offer any reprieve over the next several weeks. A persistent ridge of high pressure over portions of the country has sent the mercury to record levels over recent weeks and months. St. Louis has now seen a record 11 days with high temperatures reaching or exceeding 105 degrees this year, breaking the previous record of 10 days set in 1934, another year of historic heat and drought across the U.S.

Heat records like this will likely continue to fall. Above-normal temperatures are expected to continue through the beginning of August for much of the country, including the Great Plains.

The Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and about 350 drought observers across the country.

More on the drought:

Feds offer help to drought-stricken farmers
Farmer in the drought – if you plant it, it might not come
Farmer: 'If you eat, this drought will affect you'
Praying for rain in the Arkansas drought
From the field – tweets from #drought12
How the drought could hit your wallet
Opinion: Why the drought affects me - and you
Hogs feel drought's pinch
Drought forces farmers to sell cattle 


soundoff (234 Responses)
  1. Z

    The real problem is the amount of water the oil companies are taking now for fracking..current estimates have every water source in the US contaminated within 100 years. With GOP in power and they get their no regulation that timeframe could be cut in half.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • reality check

      Yeah, the GOP is responsible for rainfall.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • gager


      July 27, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Very true. The GOP, and their party stance wanting no regulations, is what is leading directly to the contamination of what little fresh water there is available. Pretty soon, North America will look like Africa.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bleh64

      Of course they blame the drought on the GOP, they blamed Katrina on Bush, you know since the GOP have since acquired the technology to control weather patterns and such.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack Sinclair

      Popular Science recently had an article showing pretty conclusively that when done right fracking does not contaminate the water. Most of the contamination was early on whenthey were not sealing the pipes properly. Also EPA workers admitted they falsified reports to make contamination seem worse than it was.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • s kel

      anything bad you blame on people who sale their souls to the devil. Well republicans sold theirs to big corps. and greed at any cost. Rommy sells his to whoever flip flops to make him look good(he fails on this). So come on republicans bring your useless stupid untrue replies ,reguardless of what you say.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. mike s

    OK it's not like that this was not seen comming. Several books 19-20 years ago have predicted this beginning. OK now for the real scarey part. Even if we stop all global pollution now, the current weather model is allready self reinforcing as of now! And to further drive the point home, it would take 20 years of total nonpollution before weather patterns to correct itself( please look it up, its shocking) . Now most climate scientists agree that they are not 100% sure if this is the noticeable start of it all, but if this winter is anything like last winter, that will prove it without a doubt. All I can say is pray that they are wrong and lets try to work together to correct this great global wrong!

    July 27, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe Smith

      yeah, unfortunately it is over. We have tipped the scales. At least I had 45 great years and should get 10 more before mayhem begins.

      Sadly humans are just too dense to wake up and look around. Many don't even leave the neighborhoods they grew up in and haven't seen anything. I was in China a month ago and the pollution (and people) are staggering.. It was truly crazy with black rivers, soot in the air (my while shirt turned brown). Crazy.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Bleh64

      Sadly mike s and Joe Smith, us humans are our own worst enemy. We don't have to worry about Mayan prophecies, we do it to ourselves.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. da champ

    corn prices wouldnt rise if it wasnt for ethenol. it takes more corn to produce that useless additive, than to feed livestock.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • gager

      Prices will rise. Use of corn has little to do with supply and demand.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jesus Is Lord

    In unrelated news, thousands of Americans all across the nation are protesting Chic-Fil-A's stance on Biblical marriage.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Though, all that is purposed to change, is legal marriage. No one is trying to change biblical marriage.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  5. tct

    Is this Palmer, observed rainfall, surface and groundwater levels or a combination? They all lead to different conclusions and questions, my guess is it's Palmer which could be impacted by changes in crop ratios. The drought is real and severe, but this change could be an artifact of the methodology.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Foreverwar

    I hope the "drill baby drill" crowd enjoys eating and drinking their dust.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. Josh

    Pretty soon, the price of a barrel of water will be over $100.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gwats

    So much for GOP deniers of cliimate change. They just have to look @ their brown, dried up lawns to see it.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. Josh

    When you use PBS as your reference or authority, you loose all credibility.

    July 27, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • African

      Homework: Go find the meanings of lose, loose, loss, lost. This may help you as a native speaker of English.

      July 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JDC

      loose? You just lost your credibility sir. It's "lose."

      July 28, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • DER DA DER

      Re: Josh
      when you say "loose" instead of lose you lose all all credibility.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. Country Concerned

    Unchecked tiling of the surface water by farmers, billions of gallons a day of ground water sucked up to supply ethonal production and irrigation to grow corn to support ethanol is unsustainable. We see it in the ag community and it is devastating to the land and pastures. We need water to create the evaporative effect to create rain. The water is becoming a scare commodity created by greed in the ag community.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dutch

    How stupid do you have to be to say that the GOP is not responsible for this. Sure they do not directly effect a particular rain shower but they do everything in their considerable power to prevent anything being done against climate change and they actively help industries pollute the little amount of fresh water we have available. Surely you can see that there is a link between trying to kill the EPA and the shortage of usable water/

    July 27, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    Farmers with millions in assets and loads of subsidies, tax breaks and under-rekeyed, untaxed income get 2 percent loans; middle class students pay 8 percent on educational loans. Rich get richer...

    July 27, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. GOP hate america

    but Glen beck and Sarah Palin said climate change is not real. They should know.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. cherish

    Maybe if we weren't doing things like subsidizing agriculture to produce corn and sell it below the cost of production so it can be used in ridiculous amounts for high fructose corn syrup and the like we wouldn't have so many problems in the first place. Ok. That's my rant. And yes, I have zero farming expertise, and I'm a hypocrite. But I do believe we do lots of things that hurt our food supply in the long run. The first would be our overconsumption of everything, including factory farmed meat. If we all had to pay the true cost of our food, I think we would all be healthier.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. rad666

    After America's water rights are sold to foreign companies, Americas will be drinking their urine.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Q

      More lies and scare tatics from drive by media. What we really need is to get rid of the job killing EPA so business can be unleashed to grow.......ROMNEY 2012

      July 27, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • cedar rapids

      "What we really need is to get rid of the job killing EPA so business can be unleashed to grow"

      thats right, pollution be damned right?

      July 27, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
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