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.
The country, meanwhile, is heading into another warm season with a higher percentage of the continental US experiencing dry conditions than it did last year. Federal drought statistics released April 9 show that in each of four out of five severity categories, abnormal dryness or drought covers about 12 percent more of the continental US today than it did this time last year. The fifth category, exceptional drought, covers only 2 percent of the nation, but that's double the level for this time last year.
The current drought forecast, which covers April 4 to June 30, shows drought conditions easing from portions of northeast Texas through western Wisconsin and Minnesota. Forecasters expect modest improvement into the Central and Northern Plains. But from central and western Texas north through the Rocky Mountain states to California and eastern Oregon, drought is expected to continue or expand its reach.