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US drought report: Dry conditions rapidly intensifying

US Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows drought worsening in areas already hit hard.

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Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field on July 18, 2012 near Vincennes, Indiana. The corn and soybean belt in the middle of the nation is experiencing one of the worst droughts in more than five decades. Indiana was the nation's fourth largest corn producer in 2011. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The drought wilting crops and drying up lakes across most of the central US intensified rapidly this past week and shows no signs of letting up, a new report shows.

The range of the drought increased just slightly, but the severity of dry conditions is worsening, The Associated Press reported.

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According to Thursday's US Drought Monitor report, more than 20 percent of US land is now classified as being in extreme or exceptional drought, up 7 percent from last week.

The jump "this week was the largest since we started the US Drought Monitor" 12 years ago, Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and Drought Monitor author, told NBC News. "This is really showing the rapid intensification of the drought due to the heat/dryness over the region with little relief for anyone."

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Every state now has at least a small area categorized as "abnormally dry" or worse, according to the report.

"It’s such a broad footprint," Fuchs told NBC. 

The news comes as experts said this year's drought will almost certainly cost at least $12 billion, making it the costliest since 1988.

Food prices could go up by 3 to 4 percent next year as a result, with beef expected to take the highest jump at 4 to 5 percent, the Department of Agriculture told USA Today.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120726/us-drought-report-dry-conditions-rapidly-intensi