Dramatic Drought Turnaround

A severe drought that peaked in 2007 has abated to the relief of U.S. farmers.

February 17, 2010, 5:08 PM

Feb. 17, 2010— -- Droughts seem like a foreign concept for many Americans used to seeing reports of them in poverty-stricken parts of the world, but many American farmers, communities and in some cases, entire states, have felt the effects of a serious lack of water since 2007.

But now, only about 7 percent of the country is experiencing drought conditions, down from a peak of close to 50 percent in August 2007. Only small parts of Hawaii are currently under "extreme" drought conditions.

"It was only last year that we were facing one of the worst droughts," Doug Le Compte of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told ABC News. "The worst drought in south central Texas since the mini dustbowl of 1950s, California was facing drought problems, and much of that has gone away."

The scale is now tipping in the other direction.

In the span of just a couple years, the U.S. has gone from very high drought conditions to the lowest amount of drought in the last 10 years, Le Compte says. "It's only a few times, really, in the last century that we've had this little of the country in drought. That is unusual."

Tim Rainey of the Army Corps of Engineers told ABC News' Steve Osunsami that some parts of the country may actually have too much water at the moment. "We've gotten rain, and more rain, and it kept raining. And now we're full, and actually over-full," Rainey said.

How did this extreme change happen so quickly? The West was helped by a high number of particularly wet storm systems that dropped a lot of moisture, and El Nino, which brought a lot of rain and snow to the Southwest. In the Southeast, Tropical Storm Fay started the process of saturating the area, winding up droughts in the region by the spring of 2009 after several wet storms. In the South, the drought affecting Texas, Louisiana and Florida eased after a very wet fall and winter.

In the end, a balance is needed between wet and dry, with too much of each being bad for different reasons. "We're concerned with not enough water, and concerned with too much water. It's a very delicate balancing act," said Rainey.

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