USA TODAY US Edition

Drought condition spreads over USA

61% of lower 48 states are ‘abnormally dry’

- By Doyle Rice USA TODAY

The USA hasn’t been this dry in five years. Still reeling from devastatin­g drought that led to at least $10 billion in agricultur­al losses across Texas and the South in 2011, the nation is enduring more unusually parched weather.

A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the 48 contiguous states in “abnormally dry” or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. That’s the highest percentage of dry or drought conditions since September 2007, when 61.5% of the country was listed in those categories.

Only two states — Ohio and Alaska — are entirely free of abnormally dry or drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.

The drought is expanding into some areas where dryness is rare, such as New England.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, stream levels are at record or near-record lows in much of New England. The Drought Monitor lists all of Vermont as “abnormally dry,” just six months after the state’s wettest August on record that stemmed mainly from disastrous flooding by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

The rest of the East is also very dry. “Georgia is one area we’ll really have to watch,” says meteorolog­ist David Miskus of the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md. More than 63% of the state is now in the worst two levels of drought, the highest percentage of any state.

Wildfires and brush fires have been common along the East Coast from New England to Florida in recent weeks because of wind and the dryness.

As water levels continue to decline in bone-dry southern Florida, the South Florida Water Management District has issued a water shortage warning from Key West to Orlando.

The Southwest and Southeast had a very dry winter, but the southern Plains had a much wetter winter than expected, Miskus says. The rain eased drought conditions in East Texas. The state dropped from 100% in the four categories of drought in late September to 64% this week. Much of West Texas remains in extreme to exceptiona­l drought.

Trouble also looms for water-dependent California. The state Department of Water Resources said last week that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 45% below normal.

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