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Drought, abnormally dry weather hits 49 states

Steve Jennings, stands inside his parched field of soybeans, which should be up to his knees in Gaines Township, Michigan.  

CAMP SPRINGS, Maryland (CNN) -- Abnormally dry or drought conditions affect all or part of 49 U.S. states and could worsen over the Northeast, government scientists reported Friday.

The Weekly Drought Monitor, issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicted that a broad swath of the eastern United States -- from the Ohio Valley to Northern New England -- will see drought conditions develop in the next few months.

Among the 50 states in this week's drought map, only Wisconsin is spared from dry conditions. This week's map is based on information collected through July 16.

Roughly 36 percent of the country is covered by one of four drought categories, which range from "moderate" to "exceptional," said Jay Lawrimore, a climate scientist with the National Climatic Data Center.

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A large area of "extreme" drought -- the second-worst category -- extends from northern Montana to the Mexican border, and from western Nebraska to El Paso and San Diego. A smaller area of "exceptional" drought -- the worst conditions measured -- stretches southward from southern Wyoming to near the cities of Phoenix and Albuquerque.

Lawrimore said it is unusual to see drought over such a wide area, with some of the year's driest times still ahead. And he said it was "very unusual" to see all but one state touched by either full-fledged drought or abnormally dry weather.

The drought is also blamed for one of the worst wildfire years on record. Much of the West has been declared an agricultural disaster area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making farmers and ranchers in the stricken areas eligible for federal assistance. Many states and communities in the drought region have limited residential use of water.

Many of those same restrictions are in effect in the Southeast, where an area of "extreme" and "exceptional" drought stretches from central Georgia to just north of Richmond, Virginia.

Leon Bowler looks out at the 390-acre Upper Enterprise Reservoir that's been reduced to a puddle outside Enterprise, Utah.  

A small area of the lower Rio Grande Valley is also in "extreme" drought -- but much of the rest of Texas has made an abrupt exit from the drought zone, swapping its dry weather for another problem: torrential rains and flooding.

The bad news will get worse, NOAA predicted. The Ohio River Valley and much of Upstate New York can expect drought conditions to develop, with several dry months on the horizon.

Hard-hit areas can expect little relief.

"No matter how you look at it, water shortages can be expected through October 2002 in most areas that are now experiencing drought," said Doug LeComte, of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. LeComte said that much of the Rocky Mountains drought area has endured its driest January-to-June in recorded history.

-- CNN Producer Peter Dykstra contributed to this report.


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