The Drought Monitor map released on Aug. 29, 2013.
The Drought Monitor map released on Aug. 29, 2013.

Summer’s fury was unleashed on the heartland this week as temperatures soared and dry weather persisted. According to the latest Drought Monitor, 50 percent of the contiguous United States is now in moderate or worse drought, the highest level reported since early April.

The worst of the drought remains in the western half of the country, but in the Midwest extreme heat and extended dryness combine to be the perfect storm for “flash drought.”

“Above-normal temperatures and rapidly deteriorating soil moisture conditions have resulted in what appears to be a late-season flash drought,” said Anthony Artusa, this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor author, in a narrative accompanying the map.

In Minnesota, where record-breaking temperatures soared as high as 96 degrees with heat indexes of 105 to 110 degrees, moderate drought conditions increased by 45 percentage points. Currently, 55 percent of the state is in moderate drought, compared to 10 percent reported last week. The USDA’s “Ag in Drought” report shows that 90 percent of Minnesota’s corn is currently being grown in areas experiencing drought.

To the south, Iowa’s conditions are on par with Minnesota's. The unusual late-summer heat wave pushed temperatures past the 100-degree mark in some places, and with little to no rain over the last week, 60 percent of the state is now in moderate or severe drought.   

"It's about the worst-case scenario we could have with these high temperatures and the lack of water with soil moisture declining," Roger Elmore, agronomy professor at Iowa State University, told the Associated Press.

While corn and soybeans have developed enough to face the weather conditions without reducing the number of kernels on the cob or seeds in the pods, Elmore warns that these kernels and seeds could develop smaller and weigh less, which could reduce the harvest this fall. Read more here.

Further the west, conditions remain largely unchanged, with more than half of western states in severe or worse drought. More than 90 percent of California is in severe or worse drought, stressing animals, crops and pastures alike.

Click here to read the full Drought Monitor report.