Three images tell the story of continuing profound drought

By Tom Yulsman | February 18, 2013 11:36 pm

As of Feb. 12, more than half of the U.S. was in moderate to severe drought. (Image: USGS VegDRI —

Update 2/21: A large winter storm sweeping toward the heart of the drought area in the Midwest is expected to drop a foot of snow or more. And another storm is forecast for Monday. This should work out to a bit more than an inch of precipitation. But according to meteorologist Jeff Masters, ending the drought in the core area will require 3 to 9 inches. So this will make a dent, but much more will be needed. 

The giant red splotch in the map above looks all the world like a gaping wound. And in one sense, that’s kind of what it is — a wound in the heartland of America.

The darkest red colors show the parts of the United States suffering from extreme to exceptional drought. The tans show areas of somewhat less intense drought.

Although recent storms have brought some improvement, almost 56 percent percent of the nation is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought.

The dryness has been hanging on for months. And during the growing season last year, it caused a great deal of stress to vegetation, including crops, throughout the U.S. heartland, in the West, and Southeast.

The evolution of drought stress to vegetation is shown in this animation covering all of 2012. After the end of the growing season, drought actually continues across much of the United States, but the vegetation stress declines because plants have gone dormant for the winter. (Image:

The animation above shows drought stress to crops, as determined by the Vegetation Drought Response Index. VegDRI is based on remote sensing data, as well climatic and biophysical data, such as the amount of available water in soils.

Although there may be some good news in store for parts of the Upper Midwest, for the Southwest and Southern Plains, the outlook for precipitation through June is not looking very good.

The Climate Prediction Center forecasts below average precipitation for March, April and May (and extending through June as well) across most of the southern tier of the United States, including the already parched Southwest and Southern Plains. (Image: Climate Prediction Center —

As the map above shows, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa may get some relief. But the odds are that almost all of the southern tier of the United States will experience below average precipitation. That includes some places that have been stricken with exceptional drought, including parts of New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

  • gopi1941

    From India, we share your your agoney.
    Our fate was far worse.
    Gopinathan Krishnan, a Scientist belonging to India, part of the “7 th world”:

    • Kristin Dewey

      Thank you for your kind comments. It’s hard to see family farms going broke because of the lack of feed, or the high cost of what feed is available. I’m a 3rd generation farmer/rancher in Colorado (Weld County) where the lack of precipitation in the mountains is going to hurt us this year as well. Hopefully part of the snowstorm we got this past weekend will help some, but we are in for a long, hot, dry summer again.
      Thank you again.
      Kristin Dewey, Weld County, Colorado, USA

    • doctorslime

      What does 7th world refer too, it is beyond my cultural reference frame, please explain.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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