Two Storms Bring Drought Improvements in the West

Topsoil moisture remains a concern for some winter wheat areas

Published on: Mar 6, 2014

California this Drought Monitor week saw its most significant storm of the season, while snow and sleet fell across the Midwest, says Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture Meteorologist.

According to Rippey, the rain in California’s temporarily eased agricultural irrigation requirements and aided drought-stressed rangeland and winter grains. However, spring and summer runoff prospects improved only slightly, as soils soaked up most of the moisture.

The remainder of the West also experienced stormy weather, with some of the heaviest precipitation occurring in central Arizona.

Meanwhile, a late-winter storm unfolded across parts of the Plains, Midwest, mid-South, and mid-Atlantic States, where varying amounts of snow and sleet fell in advance of a record-setting March cold outbreak. By the morning of March 3, 57% of the contiguous U.S. was covered by snow, according to NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center.

Topsoil moisture remains a concern for some winter wheat areas
Topsoil moisture remains a concern for some winter wheat areas

Generally light, wintry precipitation prevented further drought expansion on the central Plains, Rippey reports.

According to the USDA, 31% of the winter wheat in Oklahoma as of March 2 was rated in very poor to poor condition, up from 24% a month earlier. Kansas wheat was 22% very poor to poor, up from 20% at the end of January. Nebraska’s winter wheat was unchanged at 18% very poor to poor.

"When the wheat crop entered dormancy in late 2013, very poor to poor ratings were lower than 10% in all of those states," Rippey explains. "However, some of the perceived harm to the wheat may not have been explicitly caused by drought, but rather the cumulative effects of a harsh winter featuring wild temperature swings, occasional high winds, and exposure to extreme cold without the benefit of a protective snow cover."

Drought was still a concern, though, especially in western sections of those states, Rippey adds. On March 2, topsoil moisture was rated 87% very short to short in Oklahoma, along with 57% in Nebraska and 55% in Kansas. Rangeland and pastures were rated 46% very poor to poor in Oklahoma, reflective of both short- and long-term drought.