The latest Drought Monitor map released on Feb. 7.
The latest Drought Monitor map released on Feb. 7.

The intense drought blanketing the heartland drags on, and as fewer weather systems offer even minimal relief, some are again mentioning the possibility of the historic “d” word – dust bowl.

According to the latest Drought Monitor report, 57 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate or worse drought. Though this is a slight improvement of less than 1 percentage point, it still shows the severity of the drought. With moisture deficits mounting across key agricultural states, some are left wondering if a dust bowl is in the imminent future.

Producers in Kansas and Nebraska, in particular, may be questioning if it’s too late to receive enough moisture to stop the drought. Currently, 36 percent of Kansas and 77 percent of Nebraska is in exceptional drought. These percentages have been unchanged for more than five months as wet weather systems bypassed the Plains and soaked the eastern Corn Belt instead.

Meteorologists are monitoring the drought closely, and some are concerned what will happen if 2013 ends up being yet another dry year.

"I'd venture to guess that if we have one more really dry spring and summer in 2013, that we're going to be starting to rival the droughts of the '30s and '50s,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Andy Kleinsasser told Wichita Public Radio.

Many areas of Kansas need an additional 5 to 9 inches of moisture in addition to normal to quench the drought. However, one good soaking won’t cut it.

"We can't get that all at once, obviously, because then it's just going to run off and it's not going to have time to soak into the ground and recharge those aquifers," Kleinsasser said.

Read, “How Close Is Kansas To Another Dust Bowl?”

However, Kansas and Nebraska aren’t the only states dealing with drought.

The drought has now spread to other areas, including Texas (8 percent in exceptional drought), Oklahoma (40 percent in exceptional drought), and South Dakota (30 percent in exceptional drought). Extreme drought has also crept back into some areas in Minnesota and Iowa. See how your state is doing here.  

As a nation, one Texas climatologist believes that while so much above-average precipitation is vital to end the drought, the forecast isn’t producing enough wet systems. According to a report from Bloomberg, Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon finds that the odds are “stacked against ending it anytime soon.” Read more here.

While the outlook may be grim, Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, points that weather systems may still bring much-needed relief.  

“With the weather, I think everyone is smart enough to know that nothing is ever set in stone, as we saw a 100-year flood on the Missouri Basin followed by a historical drought. We have seen both ends of the spectrum,” Fuchs said.

Despite this, Fuchs did urge farmers and ranchers to plan for drought to continue while monitoring conditions. Read more here.