Heat Wave, Record Drought Parch United States

Heat Wave, Record Drought Parch United States

LINCOLN, Nebraska, July 5, 2012 (ENS) – More than half of the contiguous United States is in moderate drought or worse, a greater area than at any time in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, federal government drought watchers said today.

As Excessive Heat Warnings and advisories continue for much of the Midwest and portions of the Mid-Atlantic, officials from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln say that across the Lower 48 States, a record 55.96 percent of the land area is experiencing at least moderate drought.

The previous highs had been 54.79 percent on August 26, 2003, and 54.63 percent on September 10, 2002.

Temperatures in Lincoln touched 106 degrees today, but that was by no means the highest temperature recorded in the country. The thermometer hit a high of 108 degrees in Taylorville, a city of about 11,000 in in central Illinois.

Skydiving over Taylorville, Illinois, the hottest place in the United States today. (Photo October 2010 by St. Louis Punk Rocker)

These temperatures soar above those in the desert Southwest today, which recorded only temps of 103 in Lake Havasu City and 102 in Yuma, Arizona.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” said Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL.

“Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced in the history of the Drought Monitor,” said Hayes.

Looking at all the 50 states, the latest federal drought monitor data shows that 46.84 percent of the nation’s land area is in various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent a week ago.

Previous records were 45.87 percent in drought set on August 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on September 10, 2002.

The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

Moderate drought’s telltale signs are damage to crops and pastures, with streams, reservoirs or wells getting low.

At the other end of the scale, exceptional drought shows as widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies.

So far, just 8.64 percent of the country is in either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

“It’s early in the season, though,” said Hayes. “The potential development is something we will be watching.”

All federal and state officials are watching closely, too, as the Midwest and Atlantic regions experience severe weather swings and storms.

Temperatures at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport reached a record-high of 103 degrees this afternoon but dropped nearly 20 degrees to 84 degrees after a thunderstorm moved through the area. Wind gusts to 52 mph accompanied the storm at O’Hare, while other Chicago locations reported wind gusts up to 94 mph.

Today, damaging storms hit West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. Temperatures over 101 degrees are forecast for Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday.

The weekend is forecast to be a scorcher in Cincinnati with temperatures over 100 on both Saturday and Sunday, with Cleveland not much cooler with the mercury soaring above 95 degrees.

Across the Midwest and Atlantic regions, 721,599 customers are still without power after a severe storm swept the area on Friday, claiming 22 lives. At the peak of the power outage 4.1 million customers were without electricity.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint endeavor by the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and drought observers across the country.

Click here to examine the Drought Monitor’s current and archived national, regional and state-by-state drought maps and conditions.

The month of May was the all-time warmest May on record across the Northern Hemisphere, at 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit above average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes both the National Drought Monitor and the National Weather Service.

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