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Drought Deepens In Hardest Hit Parts Of U.S.

Drought-stricken corn struggles to survive on a farm near Poseyville, Ind.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Drought-stricken corn struggles to survive on a farm near Poseyville, Ind.

The areas of the lower 48 states where this summer's drought is judged to be "severe, extreme or exceptional" ( in ascending order of seriousness) increased slightly again this week, according to the experts at the federal government's National Drought Mitigation Center.

It reports that:

-- 4.21 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing exceptional drought conditions, up from 3.01 percent the week before. The states suffering through such conditions include Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia.

-- 24.14 percent was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, up from 22.27 percent. The affected states include those where the drought is exceptional and others such as Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kentucky.

-- 46.01 percent was experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions, up from 45.57 percent.

Our colleagues Matt Stiles, Chris Amico and Danny Debelius have taken the drought mitigation center's data for this year and put together an interactive graphic that maps how the drought has grown this year.

The only bit of modest good news in the latest report: altogether, 78.14 percent of the lower 48 was suffering through something ranging from "abnormally dry" conditions to an exceptional drought. That was down from 79.38 percent the previous week.

<a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/07/18/156989764/interactive-mapping-the-u-s-drought">Click here</a> to go to an interactive map showing how the drought has grown this year.
/ NPR.org
Click here to go to an interactive map showing how the drought has grown this year.

And looking ahead, the drought experts have some hopeful news: There's a good chance of rain the next few days over much of the "Midwest, Northeast, Great Lakes, Gulf Coast and Atlantic coastal reaches of the Carolinas and Georgia."

Still, as The Associated Press reports, "the Plains states where the production of corn and soybeans is key are being hit harder by excessive drought conditions in the wake of the hottest month on record in the continental U.S., contributing to a surge in global food prices." That has some farmers turning to drought-resistant sorghum, CBS News says.

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Corn Harvest Forecast Cut:

"The government slashed its expectations for U.S. corn and soybean production for the second consecutive month Friday, predicting what could be the lowest average corn yield in more than 15 years as the worst drought in decades continued punishing key farm states," the AP reports. It adds that:

"The U.S. Agriculture Department cut its projected U.S. corn production to 10.8 billion bushels, down 17 percent from its forecast last month of nearly 13 billion bushels and 13 percent lower than last year. That also would be the lowest production since 2006.

"Soybean production is now forecast at 2.69 billion bushels, a 12 percent decline from last year and well off the 3.05 billion bushels the USDA had expected last month. Expected yields on average of 36.1 bushels per acre would be the lowest since 2003."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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