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July is hottest month on record; drought expands to 63 percent of United States

More than half of the country experienced "moderate to exceptional" drought conditions at the end of July, the hottest month ever recorded. And the impact of this hot weather has been felt across the nation as crops shrivel and wildfires rage out of control. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

It may come as little surprise with this summer's sweaty nights and blistering days across much of the country, but July marked the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States, according to government scientists. Furthermore, drought now covers nearly 63 percent of the Lower 48 states, where average precipitation is 0.19 inch below average.

A bit of hope, though, was seen for some crops in the Midwest thanks to cooler temperatures and rain.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average temperature across the contiguous United States in July was 77.6 Fahrenheit, a full 3.3 degrees above the 20th century average.

The previous warmest July was in 1936, when the nation's average temperature was 77.4 degrees.

The hot July contributed to a record-warm first seven months of the year and the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since accurate record keeping started in 1895.

Virginia experienced its warmest July on record, with a statewide temperature a whopping 4 F above average. In all, 32 states had July temperatures among its 10 warmest, with seven states having their second warmest July on record.

While heat and extreme events such as drought and wildfires are often associated with global warming and climate change, it's unclear if the latest pattern is part of a much larger trend. 

Related: Drought socks crops despite recent showers 

"These events are kind of what we'd expect with climate change, we'd expect expanding drought, we'd expect warm, record breaking temperatures," Jake Crouch, a NOAA climate scientist, told NBC News. "But it's kind of hard to pinpoint this month or past several months as a telltale sign that climate change is happening. The drought is more of a local factor and isn't necessarily driven by large scale climate change, but is impacting local temperatures. But we've also seen an increase in U.S. temperatures overall."

Still, there's no doubt this summer is taking a human toll, with warmer nights making it difficult for some people to sleep, and causing physical stress, Crouch said.

And the drought rollls on, with drier-than-average conditions continuing across the Central Plains and Midwest. Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri had July precipitation totals ranking among their 10 driest.

Some rain and cooler temperatures in the drought-stricken Midwest, however, are expected to provide relief for late-season soybeans, but the change in the weather is arriving too late to help the already severely damaged corn crop, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday. 

"It's definitely better than what we've had but I'd be hesitant to call it a drought-buster. Longer-term outlooks still look like a return to warm and dry," said Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather. 

Related: Blame blistering heat waves on global warming, study says

Nicholls said up to three-quarters of an inch of rain, with locally heavier amounts, was expected in roughly 75 percent of the Midwest from Wednesday through Friday morning, and a similar weather system is expected next week.

Though the heat can be uncomfortable, not everyone is complaining. “The heat is definitely a blessing for us after coming off the warm, dry winter without a lot of weather events,” Alan Ayers, general manager at Crisafulli Brothers Plumbing and Heating Contractors in Albany, told The Associated Press.

The 73-year-old company has seen an 18 percent increase in new air conditioner installations over last year and has its 16 technicians working long hours to install, replace and repair units taxed by the swelter.

A storm pattern in the Southwest contributed to California's fifth wettest July on record and Nevada experiencing its eighth wettest, NOAA said. Wetter-than-average conditions were also reported through the rest of the Southwest, along the western Gulf Coast, and through the Ohio Valley where West Virginia had its tenth wettest July.

The warm and dry conditions over a large swath of the United States were seen as ideal wildfire conditions, NOAA said. More than 2 million acres burned nationwide in July because of wildfires. That is nearly half a million acres above average, and the fourth most on record since 2000.

Over the weekend the fires that burned across the state damaged nearly 94,000 acres and on Monday a body was found in a Norman home. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reports.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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