USDA: Nearly Two-Thirds of U.S. Is Still In Drought

By Patrick Burke | October 17, 2012 | 7:26 PM EDT

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( -- Almost two-thirds of the continental United States is still experiencing drought conditions as of Oct. 9, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA.)

The U.S. Drought Monitor maintained by USDA, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicates that 63.55 percent of the continental United States, which excludes Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, is in drought, which is a decrease from late September.

On September 25, 65.45 percent of the continental United States was experiencing drought, which was the highest percentage area since the start of 2000.

The Drought Monitor attributes the slight decrease to increased rains in the South and Eastern United States, as well as the Great Plains and Midwest.

“The past week featured a series of low-pressure systems that moved across the northern tier of the contiguous 48 states, with their associated cold fronts moving southward to the gulf coast,” according to the Drought Monitor’s Weekly Summary.

“These cold fronts brought some rains to portions of the contiguous 48 states, with the heaviest amounts across the northern Great Plains, Mid-west, Mid-Atlantic, and Florida.  Most of the areas that are west of the Rockies remained dry this week, under the influence of a persistent upper-level ridge,” the Summary said.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S. winter wheat progress as of October 14 has been below the 5-year average in the 14 of 18 states that are monitored.

The decrease in wheat progress is most pronounced in South Dakota, where emergence is 56 percent below the 5-year average.

Additionally, the latest Crop Production Report released on Oct. 1 noted the the 10.7 billion bushels of corn forecasted is down from the September forecast, and stands to be the lowest production in the United States since 2006.

Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist, wrote on the USDA blog that in spite of increased rainfall, more will be needed to, “ensure proper crop emergence and establishment.”

“Some of the precipitation has begun to spill across the Rockies to the northern Plains, but more moisture is needed across the northern hard red winter wheat belt to ensure proper crop emergence and establishment,” said Rippey.