Widespread Drought Grips Large Sections of U.S.

More than half the continental U.S. is in a drought, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s monthly State of the Climate drought report released Monday.

The figures, taken at the end of June, show this to be the widest spread drought since 1956. The report is based on a data set going back to 1895 called the Palmer Drought Index, which feeds into the widely watched and more detailed U.S. Drought Monitor. It reported last week that 61% of the continental U.S. was in a moderate to exceptional drought.

The report also showed that the globally-averaged temperature for June marked the fourth warmest June since record keeping began in 1880. This summer, 80% of the U.S. is abnormally dry, and the drought expanded in the West, Great Plains, and Midwest last month with the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record.

The nation's corn and soybean belt has been especially hard hit over the past three months, the report said. That region has experienced its seventh warmest and 10th driest April-to-June period.

In California, the state Department of Water Resources’ final snow survey of the season, taken May 1, showed Sierra mountain snowpack at just 40% of normal for the time of year. That contrasts to the prior year, when the final snowpack was 190% of normal.

The bright spot for California is that reservoir storage is very strong, thanks to a wet 2011. Around the state, major reservoirs are very close to or above historical averages for the time of year, indicating there may be adequate supplies for the summer. Lake Oroville, the mainstay of the State Water Project, is 105% of average and Lake Shasta, part of the federal Central Valley Project, is at 101%.