Moderate drought or worse now afflicts more of the nation than ever before in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, officials from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said Thursday.

Analysis of the latest drought monitor data revealed that 46.84 percent of the nation’s land area is in various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent a week ago.

The previous record was 45.87 percent in drought set Aug. 26, 2003.

Looking only at the 48 contiguous states, 55.96 percent of the country’s land area is in moderate drought or worse — also the highest percentage on record in that regard, officials said.

The previous high had been 54.79 percent set on Aug. 26, 2003.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale," Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, said in a news release. “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 begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

Moderate drought’s telltale signs are some damage to crops and pastures, with streams, reservoirs or wells getting low. At the other end of the scale, 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 percent of the United States is in either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater area of coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now, we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.”

The hardest-hit areas are centered in Colorado and Georgia.

In Nebraska, a sliver of the southwestern corner of the state is in extreme drought. Other areas of western Nebraska are in the severe drought category.

Because of drought conditions across the state, Gov. Dave Heineman on Thursday expanded immediate early roadside haying in 68 of the state’s 93 counties, including Clay, Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Johnson, Nuckolls, Pawnee, Richardson, Saline and Thayer in Southeast Nebraska.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint endeavor by the National Drought Mitigation Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and drought observers across the country.


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