Dire Texas drought expands, rains this week futile

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2011 12:59 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An historic drought encompassing most of Texas and parts of neighboring states in the southern U.S. Plains expanded and intensified last week, according to a report issued by U.S. climatologists on Thursday.

Rain moved through some drought-hit areas in the major wheat producing region at midweek this week, but it offered only limited relief due to the massive precipitation deficit in the area and continued hot weather, climatologists said.

"Exceptional" drought, the most extreme drought classification that climatologists assign, consumed 72.3 percent of Texas in the week ended June 28, up from 70.6 percent a week earlier.

Additionally, nearly 95 percent of the major wheat and cattle producing state was under "severe" drought or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released on Thursday.

"This was another very hot and dry week for much of the southern Plains. Beneficial rains occurred in a few areas of eastern and southern Texas, but deficits have been so large that little change was made to the USDM depiction," said Richard Heim of the National Climatic Data Center.

The drought was equally harsh in western Oklahoma, with nearly a third of the No. 3 winter wheat producing state under exceptional drought, unchanged from the previous week.

The drought was far less severe in top winter wheat producer Kansas, where about half of the state was under some level of drought, only 2 percent of that deemed exceptional.

Drought has also expanded into the southeastern United States in recent weeks, impacting crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans and peanuts.

More than 90 percent of Louisiana was currently under extreme to exceptional drought, compared with about a third of the state in that category three months ago.

Far southern areas of Alabama, the southern half of Georgia, and the Florida panhandle were also under extreme to exceptional drought.

But while dry conditions persisted in the southern United States, overly wet conditions prevailed in the northern Plains.

Historic flooding forced the evacuation of scores of residents in Minot, North Dakota, and swamped millions of acres of farmland in the top wheat producing state.

(Reporting by Karl Plume; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)