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Hottest Summer Since Dust Bowl, U.S. Says

September 15, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — With nearly half the country reeling from a blistering drought, this summer is the hottest since the depression-stricken Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, government weather experts said.

The summer's scorching temperatures have sparked raging forest fires in the West, wilted crops in the Midwest and parched pastures in the Plains.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday that the average temperature for the contiguous United States from June through August was 73.9 degrees, the third-hottest summer since record-keeping began in 1895. Summer officially ends Sept. 22.

The only warmer summers were in 1934 and 1936, when vast numbers of farmers were driven from their land by drought.

"It's very extraordinary to have the warmest summer since the 1930s Dust Bowl days," said Douglas LeComte, a drought specialist at NOAA.

Although the U.S. economy is no longer as dependent on agriculture as it was in the 1930s, a major drought two years ago caused damage worth $4 billion and claimed 140 lives nationwide. That summer in 2000 was only the 12th warmest on record.

"Although the total costs of this year's drought are not presently known, the drought diminished water supplies ... and contributed to an active wildfire season and extremely difficult farming conditions," NOAA said.

Moderate to extreme drought now covers more than 45% of the United States.

Six states--North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada--are suffering their worst droughts on record, NOAA said. South Carolina, Maryland, Georgia, Delaware and Wyoming also are near unprecedented dry levels.

NOAA predicted that the direct loss of this year's drought would be in the billions of dollars.

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