A Summer Scorcher
Extreme heat and drought have made for a tough summer across much of the U.S.
Pools of water have dried up from the lack of rain and scorching heat. (Jeff Tuttle / Reuters)
Summer 2012 has turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record in the United States. It has also been one of the driest. The scorching heat and lack of rainfall have led to severe drought (a long period of dry weather) throughout much of the country.
According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, nearly 62 percent of the country is experiencing drought. Almost 24 percent of the nation is under extreme or exceptional drought—the two worst levels.
The middle of the country, where farming is big business, has been hit the hardest. There, the drought has led to shortages of the nation’s two biggest crops, corn and soybeans. More than 80 percent of these crops are grown in areas experiencing drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has twice decreased its forecast for this year’s corn and soybean output. Reduced supplies mean that the prices people pay in America for cereal, candy bars, soda, and many other foods that use corn as an ingredient will likely increase this year.
Livestock has also been affected by the drought. Along with higher feed prices, shortages of grass, hay, and water across much of the Southwest have forced many ranchers to reduce their herds of cattle.
The dryness has also fueled wildfires across the West. About 35 fires are currently blazing in 12 Western states, including Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California. Many homes have been destroyed, and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.
So far this year, more than 42,000 wildfires have burned nearly 6.8 million acres of U.S. land. That is well above the 10-year average.
AN END IN SIGHT?
Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center expect the drought to continue until at least November. It has gotten worse in some key farming states, including Kansas and Nebraska. But in others, conditions are getting better.
Recent storms and cooler temperatures have slightly eased the drought in Iowa and other Midwestern states. Conditions are also expected to improve in Southwestern states, and in South Dakota, Indiana, and Texas. But the relief has come too late for many ranchers and farmers, who have already cut their cornfields and sold their cattle.
“The [damage] in a lot of places has been done for this year,” said Mike Brewer, a National Climatic Data Center scientist. “Any easing will just help things out a little next year.”