Hot and Dry

High temperatures and severe drought hit hard across the United States

Aug 08, 2012 | By Abby Lieberman
NATI HARNIK—AP

High temperatures across the United States have made this summer the warmest on record. The blistering heat is causing many Americans to seek shade. But there is a bigger issue a hand: drought. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), 63% of the country is in some form of drought and 46% is experiencing severe drought.

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JUSTIN SULLIVAN—GETTY IMAGES
As a result of the drought, water levels have dropped sharply in this Iowa river.

“We have only seen two other times when that much area of the U.S. in the lower 48 states is in drought,” says Mark Svoboda of the NDMC. “And that was in the 1950s and the 1930s.”

A drought happens when there is less rain than usual and water supplies become short. This can lead to crops shortages, increased food prices and restrictions on water use. The state’s impacted the most by this year’s drought are Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  

Extreme Temperatures Mean Extreme Conditions

Lack of snowfall this winter and hot temperatures this spring started the drought. Extreme summer temperatures have made the drought severe and fast-paced.

“High temperatures are the big news story because they have really accelerated the impacts of this drought,” explains Svoboda.

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LM OTERO—AP
Dirt and dust engulf a pasture in Springtown, Texas.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, last month was the warmest July on record in the U.S. Daytime heat can be intense, but the real problem is the increasing temperatures at night.

“It’s those high nighttime minimum temperatures that have really put stress on the livestock, people, and crops,” explains Svoboda. “There’s no chance to recover from the day’s heat.”

Promise for the Future

Experts say the drought will probably last until at least the middle of October. As for the high temperatures, Svoboda says there is reason to believe that the upcoming winter will be a cooler one than in recent years.

“It may be a way to sort of switch things around for us for the better,” he says.