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Great Lakes Article:

Drought afflicts much of the nation


Randolph E. Schmid
Associated Press

Washington - It isn't the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but serious drought is afflicting nearly half the country after the hottest summer since then.

It has wilted crops and lawns, parched pastureland and forced communities to impose water restrictions.

Moderate to extreme drought affected more than 45 percent of the country during each of the last three months, the National Climatic Data Center reported yesterday.

Nationwide, the summer - June through August - was the third-hottest on record, following only 1936 and 1934, the agency said.

The toll of drought and heat won't be known for some time, but Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, estimated that as much as $2.7 trillion of the economy is directly sensitive to weather conditions.

Weather patterns have kept moisture away from the Northeast and Western states and much of the South, while parts of the upper Midwest, particularly Minnesota and the Dakotas, received above normal rainfall.

Among the effects:

The Agriculture Department has opened up conservation lands across the country for hay harvesting or grazing to assist drought-plagued farmers.

By the end of August, 6 million acres of mostly forest - an area roughly the size of New Hampshire - had been consumed by flames across the United States. That is double the average annual damage by wildfires, with costs estimated at $1.5 billion so far and large fires still burning in the West.

In Las Vegas, water wasters can be fined and sent to a conservation class.

In New England, dryness threatens the cranberry crop because the bogs where the berries grow can't be flooded for harvesting.

The Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, N.C., reported that the average temperature for the 48 contiguous states this summer was 73.9 degrees Fahrenheit. That's 1.8 degrees warmer than normal and the third hottest on record.

The report comes just a day after the National Weather Service forecast dry conditions continuing through the winter for much of the country. Only the South is expected to be wetter than normal.

Heavy rainfall eased drought but led to severe flooding in southern and central Texas in early July, with damage estimates as high as $1 billion. Strong thunderstorms also brought widespread flooding to western Minnesota and North Dakota and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in crop losses in June.

The 12 months that ended with August were the driest on record for North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada.

They were the second-driest 12 months in South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Delaware and Wyoming.

But when grandpa scoffs and says the current dryness is nothing compared with the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s Depression decade, he's right.

The most widespread drought since recordkeeping began 108 years ago was recorded in July 1934, when 80 percent of the United States was in moderate to extreme drought.

Climate experts at the data center noted other, more severe, droughts have occurred in the past.

Tree rings and other historical data indicate droughts nearly as severe as that of the 1930s many times during the past three centuries.

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