Though the Plains are still in a serious drought, wet weather that moved across the Midwest was a welcome addition to the weatherman's forecast last week.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows 51% of the contiguous U.S. is still in D1-D4 stage drought, though much of the significant drought appears to be centered on the Plains states.
Hardest-hit areas remain in Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and into Oklahoma and New Mexico.
"We did see fairly significant declines in hay, cattle and winter wheat in drought for the week ending March 12," says USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey. "Hay in drought down 5 percentage points from the week before to 51%, cattle in drought down 4 points to 62%, and winter wheat in drought down 2 points to 56%."
Rippey says warmer temperatures have also hurt crops' efforts to emerge from significant drought without much harm. Mild weather is expected to continue in the some of the southern growing areas, Rippey says, which isn't a good situation for winter wheat.
"That has coaxed winter wheat out of the vegetative stage. It means that the winter wheat that is already drought-stressed will require moisture soon to prevent any additional stress on the crop."
He projects that there will be a series of disturbances the next several days, mainly tracking across the northern United States, though the heaviest rain and snow will fall across the northern tier.
As for lingering moisture problems, 91% of the High Plains is still experiencing D1-D4 drought.
Midwestern farmers welcomed snowfall and rainfall – in some areas mixed. This trimmed areas of abnormal dryness in Michigan and Indiana and lingering drought conditions on the monitor reflect soil moisture deficits.
Matthew Rosencrans of the NOAA/National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center says frozen ground in the Midwest isn't allowing the soil to take on as much moisture as it can use. Streams and river rose and fell rapidly, he reports, indicating excessive runoff and lack of penetration.
On the coasts, drought has improved in Virginia, though moisture was not enough to change drought intensity in the Northeast. In the Southeast, drought improved in Alabama and north Central Georgia with above-normal rains. However, drought expanded slightly in Florida.
On the West Coast, portions of California received welcome rains, prompting removal or trimming of some D1 areas in Central California and areas of D0 in Northern California.
However, Rippey adds that there has been some premature snowmelt in the west, complicating the melt and runoff cycle.