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Five maps that show how dire the U.S. drought situation really is

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Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Sunday, May 25, 2014, 10:03 PM -

Persistent dry weather has grown more worrisome in the American West. 

As of May 6, 2014, half of the country was facing drier-than-normal conditions, with nearly 15 percent of the nation facing 'extreme' to 'exceptional' drought. 

At the forefront of the problem, is California, which continues to face one of its worse dry spells on record. Experts say 100 per cent of the state is completely parched, ranging from "severe" to "exceptional".

RELATED: California drought 'worst in decades'

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center website, nearly 25 per cent of the state is considered to be in an exceptional drought. That means there are widespread crop and pasture losses in some areas, along with water shortages in reservoirs and streams, leading to water emergencies. Although droughts are hardly a new feature in western United States, officials say the current one in California is serious even by historical standards. Here are five maps that put the situation into perspective:

1. Drought plagues half the United States 

The photo below was obtained from NASA's Earth's Observatory was developed by the U.S. National Drought Monitor, a partnership of U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It depicts areas of drought in progressive shades of orange to red. 

"For the Plains and the Southwest, it’s a pattern that has been persistent for much of the past several years." (Image: National Drought Monitor/NASA's Earth Observatory)

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, at least half of the country has faced drought at one point or another since 2012. July 2013, however, was the peak, when about 81 per cent of the nation reported some level of drought. 

The 2012-14 drought has also proven to be the biggest since the drought of 1988-89.

SEE ALSO: California drought reignites search for 1965 plane wreckage

2. California: Completely Parched 

As we stated earlier, the situation is particularly dire in California. Nearly the entire state was facing an extreme drought at the end of January 2014. 

(Image: California Drought Monitor)

(Image: California Drought Monitor)

On January 17, the severely dry weather prompted governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency for the state on which would give California access to federal funding as they battled the worst drought the state has seen since records began about 100 years ago. 

From February 1, 2013, through January 31, 2014, a statewide average of 177.04 mm of rain fell; the norm is 571.75 mm. Needless to say, that bodes troublesome for the agricultural sector, which is responsible for about half the fruits and vegetables grown across the U.S..

3. Increased risk of wildfires 

The dry weather has also increased the potential for wildfire. The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting "above-normal" wildfire potential in the western region this summer. 

(Image: National Interagency Fire Center)

(Image: National Interagency Fire Center)

And they've already begun in some areas. A wildfire in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula has grown to cover more than 500 square kilometres. Nearly 150 homes were warned to prepare to evacuate over the weekend. 

Earlier this month, dry air and winds fueled a massive wildfire in San Diego, resulting in at least one death. Although it is unclear as to what exactly caused the fires, officials say years of drought conditions in southern California have been "prime" for wildfires.

RECOMMENDED: California drought having negative impact on sheep and hay

4. Government aid 

If you start noticing an increase in your grocery bill, the drought is likely to blame. 

At least 54 percent of the nation’s wheat crop is affected by some level of drought, as is 30 percent of corn, and 48 percent of cattle.

(Image: USDA)

(Image: USDA)

As the above map shows, a large number of areas are now considered "disaster counties" whose farmers and ranchers are eligible for certain emergency loans. This, however, is likely to cost taxpayers in the long run.

5. More of the same 

The future is looking bleak for the West and southern Plains

(Image: National Weather Service)

(Image: National Weather Service)

El Niño 2014: What can Canada expect?

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: What is an El Nino?

Experts say the drought will persist all through summer. It is possible that an El Niño next winter will provide some relief for the region, however that all depends on what type of El Niño forms in the Pacific Ocean later this year.

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