The most severe drought in recent years is destroying crops and threatening to empty reservoirs in these states.
The United States is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in memory. More than 30 percent of the country was experiencing at least moderate drought last month.
In seven states, drought conditions were so severe that each had more than half of its land area in severe drought. Severe drought is characterized by crop loss, frequent water shortages and mandatory water-use restrictions. Based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor through May 13, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the highest levels of severe drought.
In an interview, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey, told 24/7 Wall St. that drought has been a long-running issue in parts of the country. “This drought has dragged on for three and a half years in some areas, particularly (in) North Texas,” Rippey said.
While large portions of seven states suffer from severe drought, in some parts of these states, drought conditions are even worse. In six of the seven states with the highest levels of drought, more than 30 percent of each state was in extreme drought as of May 13, as well as suffering widespread water shortages. Additionally, in California and Oklahoma, 25 and 30 percent of the states, respectively, suffered from exceptional drought, the highest severity of classification. Under exceptional drought, crop and pasture loss is widespread, and shortages of well and reservoir water can lead to water emergencies.
Drought has had a major impact on important crops such as winter wheat. “So much of the winter wheat is grown across the southern half of the Great Plains,” Rippey said, in an area that includes three of the hardest-hit states. In the Southwest, concerns are less-focused on agriculture and more on reservoir levels, Rippey said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced by the USDA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven states with the highest proportions of total area classified in at least a state of severe drought as of May 13, 2014. Also reviewed were figures recently published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service as part of its 2012 Census of Agriculture.
No. 5: Arizona
Percent severe drought: 76.3
Percent extreme drought: 7.7 (9th highest)
Percent exceptional drought: 0.0
Unlike other states suffering the most from drought, none of Arizona is experiencing what’s deemed exceptional drought, teh most severe type. Severe drought conditions, however, affected more than three-quarters of the state as of May 13.
While dry conditions are not particularly unusual in Arizona at this time of year, the U.S. Drought Monitor accounts for local seasonal patterns in assessing drought conditions. Moreover, the extreme heat and lighter-than-average snowfall from the winter have reduced the soil moisture to such a degree that fire hazards are significantly higher.
No. 4: Kansas
Percent severe drought: 80.8 percent
Percent extreme drought: 48.1 percent (3rd highest)
Percent exceptional drought: 2.8 percent (6th highest)
Like several states running out of water, 80 percent of Kansas was engulfed in at least severe drought, an increase from one year ago when roughly 70 percent was covered by severe drought. Compared to last May, however, when exceptional drought covered nearly one fifth of the state, just 2.8 percent of Kansas was considered exceptionally dry as of May 13.
In announcing the severity of the state’s drought problem, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback lifted restrictions on taking water from state-owned fishing lakes.
No. 3: New Mexico
Percent severe drought: 86.2 percent
Percent extreme drought: 33.3 percent (6th highest)
Percent exceptional drought: 4.5 percent (5th highest)
More than 86 percent of New Mexico was covered in severe drought as of May 13, more than all but two states. Additionally, one-third of the state was in extreme drought, worse than just a month earlier, when only one-quarter of the state was covered in extreme drought.
However, conditions were better than they were one year ago, when virtually the entire state was in at least severe drought, with more than 80 percent in extreme drought conditions. NOAA forecasts conditions may improve in much of the state this summer.
No. 2: Nevada
Percent severe drought: 87.0 percent
Percent extreme drought: 38.7 percent (5th highest)
Percent exceptional drought: 8.2 percent (4th highest)
Nearly 40 percent of Nevada was covered in extreme drought as of May 13, among the highest rates in the country. The drought in the state has worsened since the week of April 15, when 33.5 percent of the state was covered in extreme drought.
According to the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD), the main cause of the drought this year has been below average snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Melting snow from the Rocky Mountains eventually flows into Lake Mead, which provides most of the Las Vegas Valley with water. John Entsminger, head of both the LVVWD and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said that the effects of the drought on the state have been “every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy.”
No. 1: California
Percent severe drought: 100.0 percent
Percent extreme drought: 76.7 percent (the highest)
Percent exceptional drought: 24.8 percent (2nd highest)
California had the nation’s worst drought problem as of May 13, with more than 76 percent of the state experiencing extreme drought. Severe drought conditions covered the entire state.
Drought in California has worsened considerably in recent years. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency earlier this year. California had 465,422 hired farm workers in 2012, more than any other state; those workers would likely suffer further if conditions persist.
The shortage of potable water has been so severe that California is now investing in long-term solutions, such as desalination plants. A facility that is expected to be the largest in the Western hemisphere is currently under construction in Southern California, and another is under consideration in Orange County.
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