According to the most recent weekly update provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of November 27, 62.7% of the lower 48 states are now in a moderate to exceptional drought stage.
To date, the 2012 drought--considered the worst since the 1950s Dust Bowl era--has caused an estimated $77 billion U.S. dollars in losses. (And with the drought still ongoing, this pricetag is ever-climbing.) The drought currently ranks as the 3rd costliest weather event in U.S. history.
How did it start? Set in motion by a record-breaking lack of winter storms and snowfall in 2011, signs of a drought onset first appeared in the early spring of 2012. The heat wave felt across the nation this summer soon worsened conditions by drying up groundwater, lakes, and reservoirs. With ENSO neutral rather than El Nino conditions having developed in early fall, hopes of above-average precipitation for the most stricken regions were somewhat dashed.
Looking ahead: The Climate Prediction Center predicts drier-than-normal weather to persist across the Southwest, Plains, and Southeast through mid-December. In the long-term, climatologists warn that the drought is expected to linger into early 2013.
Image credit: The U.S. Drought Monitor, produced in partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC-UNL.