Drought expands throughout USA

9:14 PM, Apr 12, 2012   |    comments
By Julie Jacobson, AP The Southern Nevada Water Authority won approval from Nevada's state engineer to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of water from rural areas along the Nevada-Utah line, including Lake Mead, to quench the thirst of the Las Vegas Valley.
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By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY 

The USA hasn't been this dry in almost five years.

Still reeling from last year's devastating drought that led to at least $10 billion in agricultural losses across Texas and the South, the nation is enduring another unusually parched year.

A mostly dry, mild winter has put nearly 61% of the lower 48 states in "abnormally dry" or drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal tracking of drought. That's the highest percentage of dry or drought conditions since September 2007, when 61.5% of the country was listed in those categories.

Only two states - Ohio and Alaska - are entirely free of abnormally dry or drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.

The drought is expanding into some areas where dryness is rare, such as New England.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, stream levels are at near-record or record lows in much of New England. The Drought Monitor lists all of Vermont as "abnormally dry," just six months after the state's wettest August on record that stemmed mainly from disastrous flooding by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

The rest of the East is also very dry. "Georgia is one area we'll really have to watch," says meteorologist David Miskus of the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md. More than 63% of the state is now in the worst two levels of drought, the highest percentage of any state.

Wildfires and brush fires have been common along the East Coast from New England to Florida in recent weeks because of wind and the unusual dryness.

The Southwest and Southeast had a very dry winter, but the southern Plains, including eastern Texas, had a much wetter winter than expected, Miskus says. The rain eased drought conditions in eastern Texas. The state dropped from 100% in the four categories of drought in late September to 64% this week. Much of western Texas remains in extreme to exceptional drought.

Trouble also looms for water-dependent California. The state Department of Water Resources announced last week that water content in California's mountain snowpack is 45% below normal.

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