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'Normal' rain won't end drought


U.S. history awash in destructive dry spells

Transcript: Drought Sweeping Across Eastern U.S. a 'Cancer'

Drought-sapped trees can't take the heat

 Heat related deaths since July 19:

Total: 282


Drought photo gallery

CNN's Eric Horng reports on the continuing drought across much of the Eastern U.S.
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Deborah Feyerick reports on a Pennsylvania family's struggle to farm during the drought
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No end in sight; food price rise possible

August 6, 1999
Web posted at: 9:47 p.m. EDT (0147 GMT)

In this story:

Where it's worst

Food price increase?

'This could go on for a long time'


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The drought that's now the worst on record for farmers in four Northeastern states -- and one of the worst elsewhere in the country -- could continue through the winter and lead to higher food prices, U.S. officials said Friday.

President Clinton said he is forming a task force of federal agencies to coordinate and focus the federal government's response to the weather crisis.

"Throughout much of this country we have seen the worst drought since the Dust Bowl days (of the 1930s)," said Clinton.

Where it's worst

"In Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island, this is the worst drought for farmers ever recorded," the president said, revealing information compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Four other states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and West Virginia -- have experienced their second-driest growing season, NOAA said.

In addition, April through July of this year ranks as the second driest such period on record for the Northeast as a whole. (The driest was in 1965.)

"Such a natural calamity can have devastating consequences, not only for farmers, but for small businesses and communities that depend upon a thriving agricultural sector," Clinton said.

Food price increase?

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman cautioned that a rise in food prices is possible due to the lack of rain on farmland.

"Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to the whims of nature," Glickman said at a Washington news conference. He was joined by NOAA Administrator Dr. James Baker to discuss the severity of the drought.

"This drought couldn't have come at a worse time for farmers," Glickman said, because they "are receiving the lowest prices they've received for their commodities in 20 or 30 years, especially when you talk about corn, soybeans and wheat."

Earlier this week, Clinton announced that emergency, low- interest federal loans would be made available to family farms from 88 counties in six states -- Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

Glickman said Friday his department may also issue farm emergency declarations for additional counties in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, as well as in five other states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, New York and New Mexico.

'This could go on for a long time'

Baker said long-range forecasts don't offer any hope the yearlong crippling drought in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will end soon.

Rainfall in that area has been 8 to 18 inches below average in the past year, but forecasters see only "normal" amounts - - up to 2 inches -- in coming months.

"Normal rainfall is not going to alleviate the drought. This could go on for a long time," Baker said.

The problem is compounded by summer heat that has already claimed hundreds of lives in the United States since mid-July. "We have not only a lack of rainfall, but lots of heat," Baker said.

Rain produced by a typical summer thunderstorm usually evaporates within a day because of the heat, Baker said. "That's why some of the normal rainfall we see is not going to help us."

This report was written by Jim Morris

U.S. drought worsens
July 28, 1999
Heat, humidity a double whammy for vulnerable
July 27, 1999
Heatstroke - Deadly threat in hot weather
July 20, 1999
Northeast swelters in a record-setting July
July 14, 1999
Triple whammy for farmers: Drought, heat, low prices
July 5, 1999

National Drought Mitigation Center
National Weather Service
  • NOAA Drought Links
  • NOAA's Drought Information Center
  • Four states in Northeast have driest growing season on record
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