PALM BEACH, Fla., June 24 (UPI) -- Florida officials say a drought is worsening with 20 percent of the state now considered in "exceptional" drought status.
The designation has been applied to St. Lucie and Indian River counties and now includes all of Palm Beach, Martin and Broward counties, the Palm Beach Post reported Thursday.
Florida joins other U.S. states experiencing drought conditions, including parts of Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, New Mexico, Louisiana and Colorado, Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., said.
"What we're seeing in Florida is the wetter time of the year has started but the rain has not been as anticipated," Fuchs said.
Climatologists put much of the blame on the La Nina weather phenomenon that started last fall and continued through the winter, cooling water temperatures in the western Pacific and causing weather patterns to shift, leading to low rainfall amounts for the southern regions of the country.
"As we slowly come out of La Nina we haven't seen the typical conditions return," Fuchs said.
"Conditions right now are fairly ripe that if we don't see normal conditions moving forward we are going to see the drought intensify," he said. "It's almost unprecedented what we're showing now."