(CN) — As California suffers through another summer of wildfires and water restrictions brought on by its historic drought, federal meteorologists said this week that nearly one quarter of the continental United States is now affected by drought.
In March 2015, only 12.1 percent of the nation was within a drought-affected area — a five-year low, according to an Aug. 4 report by the National Drought Mitigation Center and picked up by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But between March and August 2016, severe to extreme drought conditions have increased in three areas: the Southeast from Mississippi to North Carolina; the High Plains region of North and South Dakota, southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming; and the Northeast from Pennsylvania and New York into New England.
Meanwhile, parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, northern Texas, and Nebraska experienced moderate drought this past April due to above average temperatures and below average rainfall in March. Those drought conditions were reduced to isolated pockets by May and were essentially gone by June.
As the Southern Plains recovered, local conditions in the Southeast, New England and the High Plains worsened, with some areas deteriorating from “abnormally dry” to “severely dry” between May and June.
Conditions in all three areas have gotten even worse as the summer has progressed, with drought conditions becoming “extreme” in the High Plains and the Southeast and “severe” across much of New England and western New York.
The drought conditions have negatively impacted agriculture as well, with hay production decreased, pastures deteriorating and stock ponds and creeks drying up in the High Plains.
Fire danger is high in many areas as well.
About 53 percent of Ohio’s corn producers are within drought-affected areas, while 50 percent of areas where soybeans grow are similarly affected. Farmers in the Northeast are struggling to keep crops normally sustained by rainfall alive, and many cities and towns across the region are under mandatory water conservation orders.
NOAA predicts the drought will worsen during August in California, much of the Northeast and the South.
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