Experts: Little hope for drought relief in near future

Farm Forum

Those hoping for major drought relief in the near future weren’t given much reason for optimism by climate experts Thursday.

“The winter has brought wetter and cooler conditions to the eastern part of the central region (of the United States), while drier and warmer-than-normal conditions have persisted in the western portion of the region,” said Wendy Ryan of the Colorado State Climate Office during the monthly Midwest and Great Plains Drought Impact and Outlook webinar. “Drought conditions are expected to persist in the western part of the central region.”

The western portion of that region includes Nebraska and South Dakota.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday, much of Nebraska and the southern portion of South Dakota remained in exceptional drought. All regions of the two states were experiencing some level of drought.

Ryan said about 13 percent of the central region of the country is experiencing that exceptional drought.

“You only experience (exceptional drought) once or twice every 100 years,” she stated. “You see much of Nebraska, South Dakota, eastern Wyoming, eastern Colorado and western Kansas in that.”

South Dakota State Climatologist Dennis Todey did offer a glimmer of hope for the state during the webinar.

“What we’re taking away from this year is, there are some opportunities for recovery this spring,” he said. “The indications for mid-summer really are not strong one way or another. My bigger concern mid-summer is the warm temperatures. The potential for warm temperatures would strip out available soil moisture.”

At this point, Todey said it is hard to say whether the region is in a longer cycle of drought that will last into next year.

“It’s very difficult to say based on the past,” he stated.

From November through January, the National Climatic Data Center reports that Nebraska had below-normal precipitation, while South Dakota was near normal. The period ranked as the 23rd driest on record for Nebraska and the 54th driest for South Dakota.

Temperatures in Nebraska from Jan. 22 to Feb. 20 were anywhere from about 1 degree to 6 degrees above normal.

Meanwhile, east and northeastern portions of South Dakota had temperatures during that time that were 1 to 4 degrees below normal. A majority of the state was 1 to 4 degrees above normal, with a sliver in the northwest surpassing even that.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 67 percent of the domestic cattle inventory is within an area experiencing drought based on a 2007 Census of Agriculture data. Most of Nebraska and the eastern half of South Dakota, considered major livestock areas, are included in that. Most of western South Dakota is designated as a minor livestock area.

Also, approximately 57 percent of domestic hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought. Most of Nebraska and South Dakota are considered major hay growing areas.

Finally, approximately 59 percent of the winter wheat grown in the U.S. is in an area experiencing drought. Both Nebraska and South Dakota have major growing areas for that crop, as well as minor growing areas.

Soil moisture reservoirs for these crops are not faring well.

Soil temperatures at four inches under ground in northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota range from 21 to 27 degrees. But large portions of both states have soil temperatures in the 27 to 33-degree range.

Based on similar weather patterns experienced in the past, northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota could experience slightly below-normal precipitation from March through May.

However, the National Weather Service predicts that through May, there could be some easing of the drought in southeast South Dakota. In northeast Nebraska, it predicts the drought will persist or intensify during that period.