Heat Wave Bakes Much of U.S. and Aggravates Record Drought

Temperatures will peak Tuesday, but coming storms won't undo drought.

By Jon Schuppe and Daniel Macht
|  Tuesday, Jul 17, 2012  |  Updated 3:14 PM CDT
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Drought: Worse than the Dust Bowl

Bloomberg via Getty Images

A heat wave across much of the U.S. has worsened a record drought that has threatened farms and will drive up prices.

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Drought: Worse than the Dust Bowl

Most of the country is suffering through drought conditions so severe that some places are worse off than they were during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.
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A heat wave was roasting much of the country Tuesday, sending temperatures into the triple digits in Washington D.C. and the Midwest and breaking records from Cleveland to Connecticut.

Heat alerts were posted in 17 states with more than 205 million people affected, NBC’s Al Roker reported.

New York and Boston were expected to hit the mid-90s, while Chicago and Detroit were expected to flirt with the 100-degree mark.

High humidity will make it feel even worse. NBC 4 New York reported that Central Park is expected to feel like 100 degrees Tuesday, while humidity will push the heat index up to as high as 104 degrees on Wednesday.

An excessive heat warning was set for Philadelphia early Tuesday afternoon through 6 a.m. Thursday, NBC 10 Philadelphia reported.

The Washington, D.C. area was expected to fall a few degrees short of record highs for Tuesday and Wednesday, with highs of 99 degrees and 98 degrees, respectively. D.C. has been hit with 25 days above 90 degrees, compared to a yearly average of 16 to 17 days above 90, according to NBC Washington.  

The furnace-like conditions have aggravated what was already the worst U.S. drought in more than five decades. In June, the country’s tenth-driest month since 1895, more than half the country experienced at least “moderate short-term drought,” according to the National Climatic Data Center.

The most parched zones have been concentrated in the southeast and southwest, but the center’s drought map shows all but the northern edge of the country as being at least “abnormally dry.”

Crops are dying, cattle are going thirsty, and food prices are expected to spike.

More than 1,000 counties in 26 states have been declared natural-disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the most ever, Bloomberg reported. The designation makes farmers and ranchers eligible for low-interest loans.

“It might be a $50 billion event,” an economist told the website.

In Illinois, which is in one of the drought’s epicenters, Gov. Pat Quinn visited a dessicated farm in Waltonville and couldn't find a healthy ear of corn, NBC Chicago reported.

Quinn promised help for struggling farmers and ranchers with loans and debt restructuring.

"We've never seen a drought like this and we've got to do something about it," the governor said.

In Arkansas, ponds have run dry, wells are close to empty, and ranchers are hauling water to cattle. Others have chosen to sell off their stocks so they don't have to spend money on feeding them, according to NBC News.

"It's just devastating," said cattle rancher Karen Haralson, who told NBC News earlier this month that she sold off 100 of her 250 cows.

As for the current heat wave, relief may come as soon as Wednesday, in the form of rainstorms along the Eastern Seaboard, from Boston to Washington. But with the storms and dropping temperatures come the threat of other problems, including severe downpours and hail.

The precipitation is not expected to have much of an effect on the drought.

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