From Green Right Now Reports

Drought continues to savage the U.S., claiming crops, threatening livestock and spurring wildfires, and it is intensifying. The U.S. Drought Monitor reveals a deepening drought in the midsection of the country, which is predicted to continue as above-average hot temperatures fail to abate.

Latest statistics show that 53 percent of the United States and Puerto Rico are listed as suffering “moderate drought” or worse, according to the Drought Monitor.

The portion of the country classified as in “severe drought” has risen from 35 percent to 38 percent, and the regions listed as experiencing “extreme drought” have expanded to 17 percent from 11 percent a week earlier, according to officials who manage the government drought report.

“We’ve seen tremendous intensification of drought through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska, and into part of Wyoming and South Dakota in the last week,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and U.S. Drought Monitor author. “The amount of D3 developing  in the country has increased  quite a bit for each of the last several weeks.”

The drought of 2012 has an extraordinarily “broad footprint,” Fuchs said, with every state in the nation having at least a small section of geography that is abnormally dry or worse.

High temperatures are maintaining the drought, which has devastated crops across the nation’s agricultural midsection.

“… The heat is playing a big and important role. Even areas that have picked up rain are still suffering because of the heat,” Fuchs said.

Today’s forecast calls for heat advisories in portions of 17 states across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and about 350 drought observers across the country. It is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday.

Drought Monitor authors synthesize drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas that are abnormally dry (D0), in moderate drought (D1), in severe drought (D2), extreme drought (D3) and exceptional drought (D4).

Drought in 2002, Nebraska; even moderate drought can render pastures useless to livestock. (Photo: Ken Dewey, High Plains Regional Climate Center)