US drought is most widespread since 1956

July 16, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The monthly State of the Climate drought report released Monday by the National Climatic Data Center says 55 percent of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to extreme drought. That's the most since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was covered by drought.

Topsoil has turned dry while "crops, pastures and rangeland have deteriorated at a rate rarely seen in the last 18 years," the report said.

Two-thirds of Illinois is in what's classified as a severe drought or worse. Neighboring Indiana is even worse, with 70 percent in at least a severe drought.

This year, 80 percent of the U.S. is abnormally dry, and the drought expanded last month with the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record going back to 1895.

The nation's corn and soybean belt has been especially hard hit. The report says Midwest has experienced its seventh warmest and 10th driest April-to-June period. And it says crops, pastures and rangeland have deteriorated at an alarming rate.

Governor Pat Quinn is requesting federal aid for seven more drought-stricken counties in Illinois. Twenty-six counties were determined eligible for emergency support by the US Department of Agriculture last week. The additional counties have demonstrated crop losses of 30 percent or more.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in 42 counties last week to speed up the issuance of permits for temporarily using stream or lake water for irrigation.

In the Chicago area, the pool was jam-packed Monday at the Cypress Family Aquatic Park in Woodridge.

"It cools me off, and it's better than staying in the house with the air conditioning," said swimmer Emily Lenzen.

For the lucky ones, this was definitely a great way to cool down, but it's another story for those whose job requires them to be out in the heat. One construction crew had to rebuild an entire neighborhood block in Downers Grove.

"By the end of the day all I want to do is shower and got to bed," said construction worker Rob Suthern, "so I can do it all again the next day."

The dry, hot weather is also hurting business for many. Hector Martinez owns Aerate-1 Landscaping. His crew was busy with a pretty big job Monday, but he says the lawn care side of his business is down more than 50 percent in the last month weeks.

"If the lawn doesn't grow, there is nothing to cut," Martinez said. "There are customers being cut. But it does more damage to the lawn by cutting a lawn that doesn't need it. Let it grow and get some water on it and then go ahead and cut it."

Martinez says, with so many towns and villages in the midst of a severe drought, that is not likely to change.

Downers Grove homeowner Sharon Worlton is still able to water her garden but on a very restricted basis.

"The trees I'm sincerely worried about because they need deep watering and they're just not getting it," said Worlton. "So sometimes I'll turn it on, the water, so they can get it just a little longer, besides the sprinkler system."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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