WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Nearly 64 percent of the contiguous United States is in a drought, the highest since the U.S. Drought Monitor's inception in 2000, federal officials said.
Dryness and drought, aggravated by above-normal temperatures, have increased in extent and intensity over much of the central and northern United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday in a release.
The drought and heat came at a critical time for Midwestern agriculture, especially corn, NOAA said. The combination of heat and arid conditions severely reduced the quality and quantity of corn and soybean crops, with 48 percent of the corn and 37 percent of the soybeans rated as poor or very poor as of July 29 by the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
More than half the corn was adversely rated in eight major corn-producing states.
NOAA said the drought was expected to "develop, persist, or intensify" across affected areas and temperatures likely would remain above normal.
In the northern Plains, some widely scattered relief could come from several cold fronts or thunderstorms, but widespread relief for much of the area is not expected, officials said.
Recent widespread thunderstorm activity somewhat eased drought conditions in the Southeast.
Normal and above-normal rainfall projected for the next three months have forecasters expecting improvements across the Deep South, NOAA said.
In New England and the mid-Atlantic regions, recent scattered thunderstorms provided relief to some locations from abnormal dryness and moderate drought, officials said.
Across the Southwest, the drought situation is expected to improve because of an active monsoon season, NOAA said.
Drought persistence is expected across the remaining portions of the western United States since late summer and early fall typically are dry, officials said. In Hawaii, a below-normal seasonal rainfall is expected to maintain drought conditions.