Drought Monitor Keeping Close Eye as Records Fall


Drought image
© iStockphoto/franciscodiazpagador

Staff Writer |

‘Exceptional Drought’ Could Create Water Emergencies

LINCOLN, Neb. — More of the United States is in moderate drought or worse than at any other time in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, according to officials from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

According to a report released July 5, 46.84% of the nation’s land area was in various stages of drought, up from 42.8% a week earlier. Previous records were 45.87% in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64% on Sept. 10, 2002.

When studying only the 48 contiguous states, the drought percentage is even higher—55.96%, also a record.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” explains Michael J. Hayes, the center’s director. “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.”

The monitor uses a ranking system that ranges from “abnormal dryness” to “exceptional drought.” Damage to crops and pastures, as well as streams, reservoirs or wells getting low, are telltale signs of moderate drought. Exceptional drought includes widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies.

So far, just 8.64% of the country is in either extreme or exceptional drought, but it’s early in the season and the situation bears watching. “During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater area coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes says. “Right now, we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

To examine the Monitor’s drought maps and conditions, visit


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