Analysis by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found 46.84 percent of the nation's land area is in various stages of drought Thursday, up from 42.8 percent a week ago.
That tops previous records of 45.87 percent in drought, set Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent, recorded Sept. 10, 2002, the center reported in a release.
Considering just the 48 contiguous states, 55.96 percent of the country's land area is in moderate drought or worse, also the highest percentage on record, officials said.
"The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale," NDMC Director Michael J. Hayes said. "Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we've previously experienced in the history of the Drought Monitor.
"It's early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching."
The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought.)