At its height, the 2012 drought covered not only the six states where the dry-out was most intense – Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. More than 75 percent of the continental US was bathed in yellow, orange, and russets on drought maps denoting conditions ranging from abnormally dry to exceptional drought.
Crops shriveled; the corn yield was 26 percent below initial US Department of Agriculture projections – representing a loss equivalent to the entire harvest in 1961, the research team calculates. Low water curtailed barge traffic on the Mississippi River. The economic losses are still being tallied, although by July 2012, the event had cost the US economy $12 billion.
In the six-state region the team analyzed, the May through August period was the driest in 117 years. Overall, the team put the recurrence rate for a drought of that severity at once every few hundred years.