How bad is this year's drought?
Iowa's state climatologist is telling media this year is officially worse than the 1988 drought, one that is still remembered for its devastation. On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated an additional 218 counties in 12 states as disaster areas.
The new designations mean more than half of all counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas by the USDA this year. Ninety-two percent of those 1,584 counties received their designations for drought.
In Iowa, almost the every county in the eastern half of the state has received a primary desigation as a disaster area from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the rest have what is called a "contiguous designation," meaning they border a county with a primary designation.
Designations include every Iowa county covered by a CNHI newspaper. Most received their designations Wednesday.
Nationally, the USDA map is a sea of red disaster designations. The northeast, Appalachia and counties along the Canadian border are largely unmarked, but that's it.
The drought has led federal officials to open new areas for hay and grazing. Those areas, part of the Conservation Reserve Program, are not usually subject to agricultural use. But many such lands are close to or in wetlands, which may have better conditions than neighboring fields parched by drought.