Heavy Rains Poised to Ease Long-Term Drought

As rainy May closes out, precipitation tallies show signs of easing U.S. drought

Published on: May 30, 2013

It seems like an oxymoron in a sense – half the nation is taking on buckets of rain but still fights long-term moisture deficits, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Thursday.

Current condition reports have the area of land in D1-D4 drought falling nearly two percentage points this week, from 46.07 to 44.34%.

Perhaps most affected by the long-term drought is the Plains – southern states in the region are seeing the gradient between "haves" and "have-nots" sharpen – while the northern High Plains have taken on so much rain that minor to moderate flooding has been reported in recent weeks.

As rainy May closes out, precipitation tallies show signs of easing U.S. drought
As rainy May closes out, precipitation tallies show signs of easing U.S. drought

According to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, rains will continue into the weekend for much of the nation's midsection, but a recap of the previous week's rainfall totals shows not surprisingly that in the areas receiving the most rain –South Dakota, Nebraska and portions of Kansas – pasture and rangeland conditions are improving.

"In South Dakota, the portion of rangeland and pastures rated good to excellent rose to 30% on May 26, up 16 percentage points from a week ago. Similarly, South Dakota’s rangeland and pastures rated very poor fell from 51 to 29% during the week ending May 26," Rippey reported.

The rain, however, was too late for wheat in most of the Plains. And the drought improvements were relatively stagnant over the southern Plains, despite a few severe storm events and local showers.

Heavy Rains Poised to Ease Long-Term Drought

Here's a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor map for this week (top) as a comparison to last week (bottom).

Rains also avoided the West last week. Only the northern tier of the region—mainly north of the existing areas of dryness and drought—received appreciable precipitation, the Drought Monitor said.

Pasture and rangeland conditions there remain in poor condition. New Mexico leads the way with 91% rated very poor to poor, followed by Arizona with 66%.

But what the southern Plains and West didn't get in rain the Midwest made up for last week. Perhaps a twitter user from Illinois revealed the sentiment of many just a few days ago: "Rain, rain, go away. At least so I can plant today."

Though huge corn planting gains were recorded in Monday's progress report, farmers still have soybeans to put in the ground as prevented planting deadlines loom. But anecdotal reports of some flooding in fields and warnings of flooding to come leave planting plans quite tentative. USDA's Rippey also notes flooding in rivers could be a hindrance to grain transport.

"Given the magnitude of the rain we have already seen plus the rain expected this week, that may be enough to cause lock and dam issues again because of high water levels along the main stem Mississippi," Rippey said.

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