2002 finishing as 19th warmest year

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Drought was a major weather story in the United States this year, and dryness is expected to persist in the Northwest at least through spring.

For the record, 2002 is on course to becoming the 19th warmest year in the United States since record keeping began in 1895. Those above-normal readings, combined with lack of moisture across much of the nation, plunged more than half the country into drought by summer.

Drought damage already has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

This year also recorded seven tropical storms that made landfall, which helped produce the wettest fall on record in Louisiana and contributed to heavy flooding in Texas.

Those storms had a positive side as well. They eased the drought in the Gulf Coast and Southeast, so that by the end of November the portion of the nation in drought conditions was down to 36 percent.

The most extensive drought on record in the United States was in July 1934, when 80 percent of the country was parched.

This year, drought that began more than four years ago in some parts of Montana forced farmers to abandon more than 20 percent of the winter wheat crop for a second consecutive year.

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