* Two-thirds of contiguous US under drought, 22 pct extreme
* Drought expands, worsens in Midwest, Plains farm states
* Some rain in forecast for Midwest, but heat to return
* Drought worsens in South just a year after record dryness
(Adds details on drought in southern U.S., adds link to
By Karl Plume
Aug 2 The worst U.S. drought in 56 years
intensified over the past week as above-normal temperatures and
scant rainfall parched corn and soybean crops across the Midwest
and central Plains, a report from climate experts said on
The drought became more severe in the southern United States
as well, just a year removed from a record-breaking dry spell
that ruined crops and wilted grazing pastures across Texas and
Oklahoma enough to force an unprecedented northward migration of
Nearly two-thirds of the contiguous United States was under
some level of drought as of July 31, more than a fifth of it
classified as extreme drought or worse, according to the Drought
Monitor, a weekly report compiled by U.S. climate experts.
The drought intensified in most major farm states, including
Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, the top U.S. corn
and soybean producer, as temperatures were five to 10 degrees
(Fahrenheit) above normal and rains were largely scattered and
Crop condition ratings for corn and soybeans have fallen to
the lowest since the major drought of 1988, propelling prices of
both crops to all-time highs last month.
Extreme drought covered about 32 percent of the nine-state
Midwest and about 5 percent of the region was under exceptional
drought, the most dire classification which results in
widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in
reservoirs, streams and wells.
About 31 percent of Iowa was under extreme drought as of
Tuesday, up from 28 percent the prior week.
Exceptional drought covered much of southwest Indiana,
portions of southern Illinois and southeast Missouri, far west
Kentucky and a wide swath of northern and central Arkansas.
"The region continues to be impacted not only by oppressive
heat, but also by depleted soil moisture, desiccated pastures
and widespread crop damages, livestock culling and elevated fire
risk," said Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation
About 48 percent of the six-state High Plains region was
suffering under extreme drought, including 88 percent of Kansas,
up from 73 percent a week ago, and 83 percent of Nebraska, up
from 64 percent, the drought monitor showed.
The six-state U.S. South region, which includes major cattle
and wheat producers Texas and Oklahoma and top rice producer
Arkansas, was about 24 percent under extreme drought, up from 21
percent the prior week.
A portion of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle region was
classified under exceptional drought along with nearly 45
percent of Arkansas.
Light, scattered rains offered some relief to areas of the
U.S. farm belt on Thursday, but another buildup of heat was
expected next week in the central and western Midwest, an
agricultural meteorologist said.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio
and Bob Burgdorfer)