Too-Dry Summer Feared

image AP

More than a third of America is now affected by months of drought and the worst is yet to come.

While the government projects some improvement in the East and parts of the West by the end of July, conditions in the Southwest and High Plains will likely remain as bad as any seen since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

Currently, drought conditions from mild to extreme cover a wide area.
In the West, where the drought is worst, so is the wildfire danger, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

Americans from Arizona north to Colorado have received a signal that the fire season's come early.

There are watches and warnings throughout the Northeast, too, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod, and parts of five states there have declared full-scale drought emergencies.

Five western states also have already declared drought emergencies, including Utah where the grazing ground is parched near St. George and third generation rancher Clark Jones is feeding expensive hay to keep skinny cattle alive. There hasn't been a drop of rain here in more than a year.

"I've never seen it this dry before in my lifetime," Jones said.

"We're seeing fire behavior that we normally don't see until late August, summertime — dry, extreme conditions," said Taylor Sevens of Denver Metro Fire.

In southern New Mexico, a suspect in a 9,500-acre fire that burned 20 structures committed suicide Wednesday night. In a suicide note, William Myers said he believed he had caused the wildfire, Otero County Sheriff John Lee said.

Lee said Myers didn't know whether the fire started from a cigarette or a spark from his all-terrain vehicle.

"He did know he caused it," he said.

Firefighters are watching for flare-ups in the rugged terrain of the Coronado National Forest where a wildfire that had charred more than 38,000 acres was finally contained.

The blaze, which began Monday in southern Arizona, was fully contained Thursday night, said Chadeen Palmer, spokeswoman for a multi-agency firefighting team. The cause was unknown.

The fire burned about 38,182 acres, Palmer said.

The wildfire burned one home and two barns and spread rapidly because of gusting winds, growing from 3,000 acres to 30,000 acres in one 12-hour period.

No injuries were reported.

It's a problem of too little winter snow on the mountains, no run-off in the spring, and no rain in the forecast, reports Bowen.

California is a split personality, wet in the north, thirsty in the south.

The warning signs are already up in the mountain town of Idyllwild, 100 miles east of Los Angeles. The reservoir is down to just a foot-and-a-half of water. It should be 20 feet deep.

Los Angeles may be headed for a record that no one wants: the driest year since they started keeping records 125 years ago. The rainy season here has been a bust — just over four inches has fallen since last July.

Recent rainfall may have changed the picture in the Northeast.

"There's no drought," declares New Jersey peach farmer Peter Demarest. "We've busted it."

"Superficially speaking, it looks like the drought is over," agreed Doug LeCompte of the National Weather Service, but maybe not: Muddy orchards don't mean the danger is gone. Wells and reservoirs take longer to fill — and long-term forecast are uncertain.

"We try to emphasize we still have significant long-term rainfall deficits and we're not out of the woods yet," he told CBS News. "If the summer turns out to be especially dry and warm we could have some really serious problems."

This week's rain hasn't changed the picture for New York City: Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned the city's water restrictions will be upgraded unless upstate reservoirs receive 15 more inches of rain in the next several weeks. The New York City system also supplies water to many suburbs.

Despite recent rains, the city's reservoirs are at 65 percent capacity. They should be 90 percent full this time of year, Bloomberg said Tuesday.
  • Lloyd Vries

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