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Drought grips much of U.S.

The parched bottom of Boyd Lake, north of Loveland, Colorado, is revealed on Saturday, August 3.
The parched bottom of Boyd Lake, north of Loveland, Colorado, is revealed on Saturday, August 3.  

CAMP SPRINGS, Maryland (CNN) -- An extraordinary drought and near-record warm temperatures stretched across the United States in July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.

NOAA's monthly drought assessment placed 49 percent of the contiguous United States in "moderate to severe" drought conditions -- due in part to the fifth-warmest July on record.

Extreme drought conditions persisted across a huge swath of the West, from San Diego north to Montana, and east to Lincoln, Nebraska. Another extreme drought zone spread across the Southeast, from middle Georgia north to Delaware, while a third, smaller extreme drought zone gripped the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

For six U.S. states -- the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia in the east; Colorado and Wyoming in the west -- July wrapped up the driest August-to-July year in their history.

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Several Western states, struggling with arid pastures, range, and cropland, have been declared agricultural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the Forest Service is struggling with what has already been called one of the worst wildfire years in history: More than 4 million acres have burned, nearly twice the average year-to-date over the past decade.

The NOAA's Climatic Data Center said average July temperatures this year were 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal, making last month the fifth-hottest July since record-keeping began in 1895.

Only the state of Texas bucked the trend. It had to cope with record floods in early July in what became the third-wettest July on record for the Lone Star State. Texas also was the only one of the 50 states whose temperatures were significantly below average.

Thirty-nine states were warmer than average last month, according to NOAA.

Climate researcher John Christy, of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, said 2002 is in line to be the second-hottest year in the past 20. He said the expected impacts of what NOAA predicts will be a weak to moderate El Nino weather phenomenon could drive average global temperatures higher in the final five months of the year.


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