The U.S. Agriculture Department reported this week that as of Sunday exactly half of the nation's corn crop was rated poor to very poor, up 2 percentage points from the previous week and creeping closer to the peak of 53 percent of 24 years ago. Some 39 percent of soybeans now fall under those two categories, rising 2 percentage points for the second straight week and eclipsing the 1988 benchmark of 37 percent.
The nation's rangeland and pastures are faring even worse, with roughly three-fifths rated to be in poor to very poor shape — the largest area thus affected in 18 years.
"Indeed, recovery from this summer's extraordinarily hot, dry weather will be a lengthy process, requiring the change of seasons and multiple soaking rainfall events — not just occasional showers," wrote Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist.
That's perhaps because July was so brutal for growers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday that the average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees, eclipsing the old record from July 1936 by 0.2 degrees. Records go back to 1895.
"It's a pretty significant increase over the last record," said climate scientist Jake Crouch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. In the past, skeptics of global warming have pointed to the Dust Bowl to argue that recent heat isn't unprecedented. But Crouch said this shows that the current year "is out and beyond those Dust Bowl years. We're rivaling and beating them consistently from month to month."
Thirty-two states had months that were among their 10 warmest Julys, which Crouch said shows the breadth of the heat and associated drought.
The first seven months of 2012 were the warmest on record for the nation. And August 2011 through July this year was the warmest 12-month period on record, just beating out the July 2011-June 2012 time period.
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