Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- The worst drought conditions in the lower 48 states expanded for the third week in a row as the level of moderate-to-worse drought hit a high for the year, the U.S. Drought Monitor said.
Exceptional drought, the most severe category on a four-step scale, now covers 6.23 percent of the region, an increase from 6.14 percent last week, according to the Monitor, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. The category peaked Aug. 21 at 6.31 percent.
The four levels combined increased to 64.16 percent from 63.39 percent last week, the highest this year, the Monitor reported. The previous high was 63.86 percent on July 24.
“Persistence of hot and dry conditions let to expansion of extreme drought and exceptional drought in northern and central Oklahoma, as well as southeastern Texas,” according to an analysis by David Simeral of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nevada.
There were “minor improvements” in the Midwest, Northeast and mid-Atlantic, as well as in Arizona and the Great Basin, the Monitor said. The report covers the week ended Sept. 11.
Drought has pushed corn and soybean prices up for months as the dry weather crimped the size of the U.S. harvest. The lack of rain across the central U.S. has also lowered water levels in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, causing barge traffic there to slow down and increasing shipping rates on the waterways.
Farmers are expected to harvest 10.727 billion bushels of corn, the smallest crop in six years and down 13 percent from 12.358 billion in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday in its second survey-based estimate for the crop. Crop conditions as of Sept. 9 were the worst since 1988, with the harvest about 15 percent complete, USDA data show.
In the U.S. as a whole, including Puerto Rico, some form of drought now covers 53.7 percent of the country, also a high for the year.
The Drought Monitor is a partnership including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Agriculture Department.
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