The USDA released its latest Drought Monitor on Thursday morning, and it was the news that no one wanted yet everyone expected. The drought is still intensifying, primarily in the nation’s agriculturally rich midsection.  

Sixty-three percent of the lower 48 states are in drought, expanding by 1.43 percentage points from last week’s report. The High Plains, in particular, saw an increase in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought conditions, climbing to 51.72 percent of area affected this week from 49.64 percent last week. Click here to check out how your state is doing.

Some key crop-producing states -– Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska -– saw a jump in the percentage of land affected by extreme or exceptional drought conditions:

State

Last Week

This Week

Difference

Kansas

89.84

96.43

6.59

Iowa

62.05

67.54

5.49

Nebraska

91.4

98.3

6.9


Other leading agricultural states did report improvements, including Arkansas, Illinois and Indiana:

State

Last Week

This Week

Difference

Arkansas

80.93

74.38

-6.55

Illinois

79.54

76.72

-2.82

Indiana

46.3

37.09

-9.21


Midwest ready for relief as drought deepensBetter news may be lurking on the horizon, though, giving hope to those ready for moisture to return.

Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather, told Reuters that rain may be coming for some of the driest areas of the Midwest.

"Kansas, northern Oklahoma and western Missouri could receive one to two inches or more Friday and Saturday," Keeney told Reuters.

Keeney also notes that while Tropical Storm Isaac may be setting its path for Florida, heavy rainfall could impact Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic. However, not all models agree with the storm’s course. Read the Reuters article here.

"The European weather model shows it landing further west in Louisiana or Texas, and if that happens there could be four to six inches of rain in Alabama, northern Mississippi, western Tennessee and southern Illinois and southern Indiana as well," Keeney said.

Another glimmer of hope at the end of the summer-long drought is the return of El Niño, which would bring a wetter weather pattern to the South and Midwest, pushing the drought further the West. An El Niño watch was issued earlier this month, and conditions are ripe for it to develop by the end of September. Read more.

The U.S. Seasonal Outlook, last updated on Aug. 16, also showed some signs of improvement for some areas in the northern High Plains and Midwest, though the drought is expected to persist through the end of November for much of the Heartland. Check out the map for a look at expected improvements – or developments – in your region.

At the end of July, Dairy Herd Network asked readers whether this year’s drought was the worst they had ever experienced. For more than half of those responding, the drought is indeed the most intense they have experienced. Check out the poll results here.