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People waling along a reservoir near Orinda, California, in February. Photo: Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Almost a half of the United States — a tract of land stretching from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains and upper Midwest — is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

Why it matters: Conditions have prompted weather and agriculture officials to warn of water cutback in California, increased wildfires in the Southwest and damage to wheat crops around the country, according to AP.

  • NOAA said drought conditions, driven by La Niña and one of the driest monsoon seasons on record for the Southwest, are likely to worsen and expand, potentially affecting approximately 74 million people this spring.

What they're saying: "The Southwest U.S., which is already experiencing widespread severe to exceptional drought, will remain the hardest hit region in the U.S., and water supply will continue to be a concern this spring in these drought-affected areas," said Mary Erickson, deputy director of the National Weather Service.

By the numbers: Currently, 66% of the U.S. is under abnormally dry conditions, 44% in moderate drought and almost 18% is in extreme drought, the National Drought Monitor showed Thursday.

The big picture: The National Interagency Fire Center said in its significant wildland fire potential outlook for March that background drought will create above normal significant fire potential this spring for the Southwest, southern Plains and Northern Rockies region.

Go deeper

What we know about the victims of the Indianapolis mass shooting

Officials load a body into a vehicle at the site of the mass shooting in Indianapolis. Photo:

Eight people who were killed along with several others who were injured in a Thursday evening shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis have been identified by local law enforcement.

The big picture: The Sikh Coalition said at least four of the eight victims were members of the Indianapolis Sikh community.

Pompeo, wife misused State Dept. resources, federal watchdog finds

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The State Department's independent watchdog found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal ethics rules when he and his wife asked department employees to perform personal tasks on more than 100 occasions, including picking up their dog and making private dinner reservations.

Why it matters: The report comes as Pompeo pours money into a new political group amid speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run.