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Best of NAMA 2023

By Greg Henderson, Drover's

The U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday contained more bad news for ranchers and all of agriculture. More than 61% of the contiguous US is in some classification of drought. That's the largest percentage of drought classification since 2012, the year when the continental US saw an all-time record of 65% during September.

The ongoing drought has increased significantly in recent weeks. In the last month alone, the percentage of the continental US in drought has jumped from 55% to more than 61%, an increase of nearly 170,000 square miles; an area larger than the size of California.

"The drought is pretty baked in," Justin Mankin, assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College and co-lead of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Drought Task Force, told CNN. "My expectation is fully that the American West is going to be in a drought through the rest of this year, at the very least."

In northern California, where record December snowfall boosted the precipitation to 159% of normal, the driest January and February on record followed, plunging northern California back into severe drought.

"We were so far above normal early in the winter," said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services. "But the rainfall season has just flat-lined. It has died."

While the West continues to see much drier conditions than the rest of the country, this week's US Drought Monitor emphasized "the southern Plains and South continue to dry out."

"As spring approaches and dormancy is broken, impacts are already showing in these areas and drought intensification is widespread with quickly expanding extreme and exceptional drought areas," it noted.

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