Drought Monitor: Some Regions Can't Give the Rain Away

While the Plains suffers cool temps and drought issues, the Mississippi drowns some Midwestern fields

Published on: Apr 25, 2013

Thursday's U.S. Drought Monitor has a picture that many producers probably didn't see coming until a few weeks ago: drought continues in the Plains while the Midwest tries to find a place to put all the rain.

Though portions of the Plains have seen some rain and snow, and are trying to stage a recovery, other areas can't seem to catch a break with temperatures.

Cool weather has held back winter wheat heading, but as USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey said Tuesday, just 8% of the crop this year was headed by April 21, a big contrast to the unusually warm 2012, where 42% headed by April 21. The five-year average is 19%.

Oklahoma shows a big change, Rippey says – just 5% headed, compared to the five-year average of 43%.

RISING WATERS: The scene in portions of Illinois is a stark contrast to the scene in the Plains, where farmers continue to battle drought.
RISING WATERS: The scene in portions of Illinois is a stark contrast to the scene in the Plains, where farmers continue to battle drought.

Over the past six months, precipitation has totaled less than 40% of normal in Oklahoma and Texas' worst areas, some stations reporting 20% of normal, said the Drought Monitor's Eric Luebehusen of the USDA.

Eastern Texas, however, did see decent rain, but that didn't extend into the Southern Plains. . Rainfall totals in northeastern Texas averaged an inch or more from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area to Texarkana, which eased Moderate to Severe Drought in northeastern portions of the state, the monitor said.

Farther North, in the Central and Northern Plains, drought intensified over parts of Nebraska while moderate to heavy rain eased some conditions for its southern neighbor, Kansas. The latest storm brought about 2-3 inches of rain to the area. The monitor points out, however, that most of the extreme to exceptional drought areas received less than 0.50 inch, leading to few changes.

Some Regions Can't Give the Rain Away

A visual comparison of the April 23 drought monitor (top) and April 16 drought monitor (bottom) shows some expanding drought in the Southern Plains, while drought recedes in Florida.

As noted, rains have kept many Midwestern farmers out of the field. Only 4% of the U.S. corn crop has been planted, much less than the 16% five-year average, according to the latest USDA crop progress report.

Though portions of Iowa remain a bit dry, northern portions of the region were anything but. Liquid precipitation amounted to 1-3 inches in Minnesota and Michigan. Missouri, Illinois, and neighboring states saw much more rain – anywhere from 2-6 inches or more.

Flooding on the Mississippi and some of its tributaries have caused quite a mess over the past weeks as river cresting continues. Two barge incidents, one on the Mississippi near St. Louis and another on the Illinois near Marseilles kept traffic at bay. Locks and dams were also closed due to high water – a stark contrast to the navigation concerns of last summer.

Near the coasts, easing drought was seen in Southern California, Arizona and portions of Utah, but a disappointing end to the water year near the rest of the west and into the Rockies resulted in some expansion of drought.

On the East Coast, cool weather prevailed while short-term dryness lingers in some areas. Florida, which has seen some dry areas in the past few months, received showers bringing to 1-4 inches of rain, though some severe drought remains.

Overall, the percentage of land area in the contiguous U.S. this week in D1-D4 drought has dropped again this week, though this time only a few tenths of a percentage point, to 47.3%. That's compared to 47.8% last week and nearly 50% two weeks ago.

Into next week, showers are expected in Texas, though the High Plains will likely miss out on any rainfall. The 6-10 day forecast to May 4 calls for warmer and drier weather across the West, and wetter and cooler conditions across the Rockies and Great Lakes regions.

Click here to view the complete U.S. Drought Monitor Report.