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Drought Tightens its Grip on Midwest, U.S. Says

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A field of dead corn on July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Illinois. Close

A field of dead corn on July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Illinois.

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Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A field of dead corn on July 25, 2012 in Palestine, Illinois.

At least 63.9 percent of the contiguous 48 states is now affected by moderate to severe drought, up from 63.5 percent last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Conditions in the week ended July 24 worsened across the Midwest, including in Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based center said in its weekly report.

“Temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter across parts of the Great Plains to Midwest every day this week, and some locations have not had significant rain for the last 30 days,” Richard Heim of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, said in an analysis. “Corn, soybean, sorghum, alfalfa losses continued to mount, ponds dried up, and wells failed in several of the states.”

The drought has left corn and soybean crops in the worst condition since 1988. Ninety percent of topsoil in six Midwest states was considered short or very short on moisture. In Missouri and Illinois, 99 percent reached that level.

More than 80 percent of pasture and rangeland from Kansas to Indiana was in poor or very poor condition, Heim wrote. All categories of drought expanded across the Midwest last week, he said.

Measuring Drought

Drought is measured on a four-step scale from exceptional down to moderate. Extreme and exceptional, the two worst categories, now cover 20.6 percent of the contiguous 48 states, up from 13.5 percent last week.

A year ago, 18 percent of the U.S. was affected by extreme and exceptional drought, according to monitor statistics.

The monitor also tracks “abnormally dry” areas, which are often a precursor to drought. Only 20 percent of the contiguous states are now free of drought or abnormally dry conditions.

A year ago, 62.8 percent of the country was free of dryness or drought, according to monitor statistics. For the U.S. as a whole, including Puerto Rico, 53.44 percent of the land is affected by drought.

“In the Plains and Midwest states, crop losses mounted, ranchers liquidated herds, and trees continued to drop leaves and branches,” Heim wrote.

Heim said more than 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell from southern Wisconsin to Indiana, serving only to “maintain the status quo.” Two more inches may fall across the region from scattered showers this week, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Banker at bbanker@bloomberg.net

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