Drought Plagues much of U.S.
CAMP SPRINGS, Maryland (CNN) -- An extraordinary
drought and near-record warm temperatures stretched across
the United States in July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration said Wednesday.
NOAA's monthly drought assessment placed 49 percent
of the contiguous United States in "moderate to severe"
drought conditions -- due in part to the fifth-warmest
July on record.
Extreme drought conditions persisted across a huge swath
of the West, from San Diego north to Montana, and east
to Lincoln, Nebraska. Another extreme drought zone spread
across the Southeast, from middle Georgia north to Delaware,
while a third, smaller extreme drought zone gripped the
lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
For six U.S. states -- the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia
in the east; Colorado and Wyoming in the west -- July
wrapped up the driest August-to-July year in their history.
Several Western states, struggling with arid pastures,
range, and cropland, have been declared agricultural disaster
areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the Forest
Service is struggling with what has already been called
one of the worst wildfire years in history: More than
4 million acres have burned, nearly twice the average
year-to-date over the past decade.
The NOAA's Climatic Data Center said average July temperatures
this year were 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal,
making last month the fifth-hottest July since record-keeping
began in 1895.
Only the state of Texas bucked the trend. It had to
cope with record floods in early July in what became the
third-wettest July on record for the Lone Star State.
Texas also was the only one of the 50 states whose temperatures
were significantly below average.
Thirty-nine states were warmer than average last month,
according to NOAA.
Climate researcher John Christy, of the University of
Alabama at Huntsville, said 2002 is in line to be the
second-hottest year in the past 20. He said the expected
impacts of what NOAA predicts will be a weak to moderate
El Nino weather phenomenon could drive average global
temperatures higher in the final five months of the year.