By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
The drought scorching the nation has reached a level surpassed only twice before in recorded weather history.
The National Climatic Data Center reported this week that 57.2% of the contiguous USA is "moderately to extremely dry," a percentage topped only during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and during another drought in the mid-1950s.
We've got a long way to go to reach the Dust Bowl, though: At one point, in July 1934, a phenomenal 79.9% of the country was moderately or extremely dry.
Recent rainfall came too late to help the withered U.S. corn crop already being harvested in many parts of the country, but it kept the strongest drought in decades from worsening in several key Midwest and Plains states.
The U.S. is the world's leading producer of corn, wheat and soybeans, and the drought raised widespread concern about higher food prices.
Unfortunately, the Climate Prediction Center's U.S. drought outlook issued last week points to drought conditions lingering or intensifying over most of the nation in the months ahead.