WASHINGTON, July 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Department for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated an additional 76 counties in six states as drought disaster areas.
The announcement Wednesday brings the total number of counties affected by the drought to 1,369 across 31 states, the National Weather Service said.
The abnormally dry weather conditions in at least a portion of all 50 states and Puerto Rico have added fuel to the more than two dozen large wildfires burning throughout the western portion of the country and the Plains, NWS reported.
The Drought Monitor report released Thursday indicates the areas of the United States considered under extreme or exceptional drought conditions has increased by an area about the size of Texas, from 13.5 percent to 20.5 percent of the land. The new extreme drought areas include parts of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and South Dakota.
"It's getting to the point where some of the (agricultural) damage is not reversible" NWS climatologist Brian Fuchs said. "The damage is done, and even with rain, you're not going to reverse some of these problems, at least not this growing season."
Forecasts are not offering a reprieve from the heat and lack of rain in the next several weeks as a ridge of high pressure persists over much of the country.