Wanted: Precip For The Spring

The forecast doesn’t call for enough precipitation to overcome the drought, but any moisture could help recharge the soil for next spring, according to climate and agriculture officials.

They offered their outlook during Thursday’s conference call with media and government leaders across the north-central United States.

The Central Plains could receive needed moisture during the next week, said Brian Fuchs with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Almost the entire region has the potential to see some precipitation over the next week or so,” he said. “That’s good, especially in the areas needing some more recharge.”

The combination of continued warm weather and timely rains would provide a boost for harvesting already underway in some areas, he said.

“Late summer moisture is helping with our overall conditions in some areas,” he said. “Crops are progressing on schedule to ahead of schedule through most of the region with a good drying down. The warmer-than-normal temperatures should dominate the region.”

The 8- to 14-day forecast also suggests an ideal period for moving forward with harvest, he said. The outlook calls for improved chances for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation through much of the north-central United States.

October should continue seeing above-normal temperatures but looks less predictable in terms of rainfall, Fuchs said. The outlook calls for equal chances of above-, below- and normal precipitation.

“One or two rain events could swing the pendulum one way or another for the season,” he said.

Temperatures during the last 30 days remained quite a bit above normal for southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska.

“We’re already halfway through September, and we’re already seeing those temperatures remain near record levels,” Fuchs said. “To me, this is shortening what the autumn season will look like.”

The harvest already underway in some areas could see smaller yields, according to Dennis Todey with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The early maturing crops come at a cost,” he said. “You have lighter kernels and fewer pounds or bushels to sell.”

In response to questions, Todey said the smoke from the western states and Canada could have had varying impacts on crop development over the summer. In particular, questions were asked about whether smoke could have affected weather conditions.

“There may have been some benefits,” he said. “We’re not sure what impact the smoke may have had, positive or negative.”

Fuchs has seen some recent crop developments in the Central Plains.

“In South Dakota, some corn stalks are developing but may have a problem with lodging, which may impact the harvest,” he said, referring to breakage of the corn stalk below the ear following maturity.

As far as corn conditions, South Dakota has 25% of its crop in good to excellent conditions, while Nebraska has 66%, Fuchs said. He reported seeing corn harvest started with some of the early corn chopped for silage.

In the areas of the Dakotas and Minnesota that are the driest, the soybeans are not responding as well, while Nebraska is doing better. Soybeans are seeing maturation with leaves dropping.

The hay and pasture report shows forage hard to find in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming because of poor the pastures and rangelands.

The entire Yankton region remains in some form of moisture shortfall, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In southeast South Dakota, Charles Mix, Douglas, Hutchinson, Bon Homme and Yankton counties are in severe drought. Turner, Clay and Union counties are a combination of severe drought and abnormally dry.

In northeast Nebraska, Boyd County lies in extreme drought while Knox, Cedar and Dixon counties are a combination of moderate and severe drought.

For the year to date, areas in the Central Plains are running at 50-75% of normal for precipitation with deficits of 3-6 inches, Fuchs said. “It’s telling us areas most in need of soil moisture recharge as we go into wintertime,” he said.

For the current crop season, the window has all but closed for making up the year’s rainfall deficit, Fuchs said.

“We are going into the climatological drier time of the year,” he said. “As we get further into fall and winter, we’re not making up 12 inches of precipitation, outside of a freak event, in northern Illinois and through the Dakotas. Making up those deficits is less likely.”

However, any timely rains would be welcome for the future, Fuchs said.

“Our focus is on moving forward with the precipitation (and seeing) where it is falling and how it is falling,” he said. “Receiving the same amount for two or three days over a large area is better than getting that much rain in two or three hours.”

As of Sept. 14, more than 73 million people were impacted by drought in the U.S. About 30% of the country is in severe drought or worse. Last year, 16% of the region was in severe drought or worse, compared to more than 36% of the region today.

“Just three months ago, we were only at 24%. What we’re seeing is that the drought has continued to expand,” Fuchs said. “We’re seeing it covering more of the region and has still intensified.”

The contiguous U.S. had its warmest summer on record, essentially tied with 1936 during the Dust Bowl, Fuchs said.

“The only difference was, in 1936, we had the extreme heat, where a lot of those temperatures were well into the 100s for extended periods of time,” he said. “Where we made that average temperature become a record (this year) was those overnight lows. You just didn’t see your overnight temperatures get down to where they should have been.”

The drought has exerted a major impact on Missouri River runoff, which remains far below normal, Fuchs said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reported 2021 as a Top 10 low runoff year with storage levels in the reservoirs far below normal and able to handle any influx of water. Stream flows in other rivers are a record lows.

Looking ahead, the October-December outlook calls for equal changes of above, below and normal precipitation, Fuchs said. While the region approaches the time when its first freeze can happen, the above-normal temperatures appear to alleviate any of those concerns.

While dry conditions were similar, 2021 differs from the past, according to Doug Kluck with the National Weather Service in Kansas City.

“We had received moisture in 2018 and 2019 which gave us a bit of banking of soil moisture to tap into last year,” he said. “We don’t have that happening this year.”

Time is running out for any major changes in drought recovery this year, Todey said.

“The time is becoming shorter for them to be able to refill the soil moisture profile. We also need a lot of surface water to bring up the stream flow,” he said.

“We could use the rain in the fall and the snow in the winter. Even after the soil is frozen, it will lead to runoff into the streams, and these drought areas need both to help improve the situation.”

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