Long-Term Moisture Deficits, Temp Swings Keep Drought Around

U.S. Drought Monitor reports beneficial rains in the central and southern U.S, but temperatures fuel drought in Texas and the central High Plains

Published on: May 2, 2013

Long-term precipitation deficits were no match to locally heavy rains over the past week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

From the central High Plains and into Texas, over to the western Midwest, soils can't seem to regenerate despite areas of heavy rain and significant flooding. In the Southwest, the early end of the water year brought little good news, intensifying drought across the region.

Many eyes are on the wheat crops in Kansas and surrounding areas this week during the Kansas Wheat Tour. Though some fields are in surprisingly good shape, concerns still swirl about frost damage due to wild temperature swings over the past month.

Storms are expected Thursday and into next week for portions of the Plains and Midwest.
Storms are expected Thursday and into next week for portions of the Plains and Midwest.

"Already last week in Amarillo, Texas, we saw our latest reading on record of 20 degrees or below, that happened on April 24. They've never seen a reading of 20 or lower after April 12," noted USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

This, followed by highs in the upper 90s into eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, intensified drought and expanded its coverage across the southern half of the High Plains. As of April 28, 41% of Oklahoma's and 60% of Texas' winter wheat crop rated poor to very poor.

Western areas from Colorado to California struggled with different issues; the end of the water year yielded little runoff and dry, warm weather intensified drought conditions. In northeastern Colorado, however, winter wheat crop conditions are improving, as are drought conditions. Extreme drought was mostly eliminated in the area. This is a contrast to the southeastern portion of the state, where exceptional drought expanded.

Overall, Colorado's wheat crop was rated 54% poor to very poor as of April 28 and its neighbor Kansas' wheat was rated 39% poor to very poor.

Long-Term Moisture Deficits, Temp Swings Keep Drought Around

This week, 46.9% of the contiguous U.S. is in D1-D4 drought (top graphic), compared to last week's 47.34% (bottom graphic).

In the Upper Midwest, planting has been on hold for several weeks now as farmers wait for fields to dry following heavy precipitation two weeks ago. Improvements were noted in parts of northwestern Minnesota, the area serving as the lone stretch of drought left in the region.

However, the Drought Monitor said despite the general consensus that conditions continue to improve, "long-term indicators, including the 6-, 9-, and 12-month Standardized Precipitation Indices, show underlying, long-term drought persists in the core D1 and D2 areas of the Upper Midwest."

Only spotty drought conditions remain along the East Coast, and Florida's most warm and dry conditions resulted in continued drought. In Southern Florida, however, D0 conditions have been removed.

A storm moving across Minnesota and reaching into Oklahoma will likely brink 2 to 4 inches across the east-central plains, Upper Midwest, lower and middle Mississippi Valley, and eastern Gulf Coast region.

Unusually cool air will trail the storm, resulting in widespread freezes on May 2-3 as far south as the southern High Plains, the Drought Monitor notes.

USDA's Rippey noted that the storm is moving slowly, but new flooding could surface in Iowa and eastern Nebraska.

"This will contribute to further delays in the corn planting year that has already been the slowest in almost 30 years," Rippey said.