The historic drought that laid waste to America's grain and corn belt is unlikely to ease before the middle of this year, a government forecast warned on Thursday.
The annual spring outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted hotter, drier conditions across much of the U.S., including parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, where farmers have been fighting to hang on to crops of winter wheat.
The three-month forecast noted an additional hazard for the Midwest, with heavy, late snows setting up conditions for flooding along the Red and Souris rivers in North Dakota.
"It's a mixed bag of flooding, drought, and warm weather," Laura Furgione, the deputy director of NOAA's weather service, told a conference call with reporters.
Last year produced the hottest year since record keeping began more than a century ago, with several weeks in a row of 100+ degree days. It also brought drought to close to 65 percent of the country by summer's end.
The cost of the drought is estimated at above $50 billion, greater than the economic damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
The drought area has now fallen back somewhat to 51 percent of the country. But even the heavy snowfalls some parts of the country have seen were not enough to recharge the soil, the NOAA scientists said.
The agency was forecasting above-normal temperatures in the Southwest and other parts of the country, with only the Pacific Northwest expected to experience below-normal temperatures.
It said drought conditions were likely to remain in the central and western parts of the country, and could expand in California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, and Texas. The Florida panhandle should also anticipate drought conditions, according to the forecast.
Scientists warned of an increased risk of wildfires, because of the dry conditions, for parts of Minnesota and Northern Iowa.