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Record July heat aids record drought

By MELINDA WILLIAMS
melinda@southwesttimes.com

Pointing out July was a hot month is about as obvious as pointing out the alphabet starts with the letter “A.”

It’s less obvious, however, that July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States and that it has helped contribute to the worst nationwide drought since 1988.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average temperature of 77.6 degrees for the contiguous states in July was 3.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. The previous hottest July average was 77.4 degrees in 1936.

Virginia also experienced its hottest July on record, coming in a full four degrees above average for the month.

However, this past July wasn’t only the hottest July on record, it also was the hottest month on record, NOAA reports. As a matter of fact, the past 12 months have been the warmest one-year period since 1895, when recordkeeping began.

Record warmth during the important agriculture months of May through July has resulted in 63 percent of the lower 48 states being classified as moderate to exceptional drought – a seven percent increase over June figures, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM).

Areas of the nation in extreme and exceptional drought doubled from 10 to 22 percent between June and July, NOAA reports.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the central U.S. is in the midst of the worst drought since 1988, but still hasn’t reached the extreme drought of the 1950s or the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Since those events, more farmers have switched to conservation tillage to keep their topsoil from blowing away, and today’s hybrid crops are better able to withstand dry weather,” states a recent report from Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

While the current drought is “devastating” to farmers due to the loss of some crops and the ultimate rise in feed costs, Farm Bureau says analysts don’t expect the negative impact on food availability and costs to be nearly as bad as other historic droughts due to increased productivity.

Farm Bureau reports that soybean productivity increased 30 percent, corn 38 percent, red meat and poultry increased 46 percent and the average cow produced 57 percent more milk from 1987 to 2009.

Eighty-five percent of farms are covered by crop insurance in 2012, compared to only 25 percent in 1988, which makes a difference when crops are ruined by droughts and other natural disasters,” states the Farm Bureau report.

Here, in Pulaski County, drought isn’t a problem yet. According to NOAA’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, Pulaski County has recorded between 30 and 35 inches of rain so far in 2012. The same data shows precipitation to be normal to slightly above normal in some parts of the county.