By PlanetLaundry staff | Jul 06, 2012
The United States is parched, with more than half of the lower 48 states experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to a recent report.
Just less than 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. is experiencing drought conditions, the most extensive area in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. The previous drought records occurred on August 26, 2003, when 54.79 percent of the lower 48 were in drought, and on September 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.
“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 the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “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].”
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.
“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 explained. “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. The potential development is something we will be watching.”
Droughts are one of the most costly weather-related events in terms of economics and loss of life, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Between 1980 and today, 16 drought events have cost $210 billion, according to a recent report.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint endeavor by the National Drought Mitigation Center, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and drought observers across the country.
Sources: CBS News, LiveScience