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Parts of Missouri shy 21 inches of rain

Agriculture.com Staff 04/18/2006 @ 8:25am

A year-long drought in southwest Missouri has built a precipitation deficit of over 21 inches, said Pat Guinan, University of Missouri climatologist.

Below normal rainfall has fallen in 12 of the last 13 months. At Joplin, Missouri, from March 2005 to March 2006, only 28 inches of rain fell compared with normal 49.5 inches, just 56 percent of normal.

"You have to look back 43 years, to 1963, to find anything this severe," Guinan said. "It is a dire situation that may take over a year for full recovery, once the rains return."

Guinan ticked off the drought impact. "Ponds are empty. Streams have dried up. Wells are running dry and people are hauling water. City reservoirs are reaching critical levels."

And there is more: "There is no soil moisture under farm fields. Grass can't grow and there is not likely to be a hay crop."

Drought stress increases with summer-like temperatures and high winds that increase evaporation.

That dry weather pattern is likely to continue, at least short term, Guinan said. "If there is any silver lining, May and June are normally the wettest months in southwest Missouri." Weather records show an average of five inches of rainfall in each of those months.

Historically, a dry April does not indicate a dry May or June.

Eldon Cole, MU Extension livestock specialist at Mount Vernon, Missouri, said, "For this time of year, it is the driest that I can recall."

"Grass greened up earlier than usual this year and things looked good," Cole said. "We got a few rains of a tenth of an inch. But, we began running out of grass in March. We needed the April showers.

"The dry weather puts a dark shadow over agriculture," Cole said.

Guinan, who tracks climate conditions for the MU Extension Commercial Agriculture Program, said farmers are among the first affected by drought. But, he added, in southwest Missouri, water-based tourism is a big part of the economy.

The current drought affects more people than the drought of over 40 years ago. "There are a lot more people in the area than in the early 1960s." That increases the demand on water resources.

"Quick recovery from the drought is not likely," Guinan said. "Even normal rainfall in May and June can't restore ground water levels."

The national drought monitor map, issued by a national weather office at the University of Nebraska, shows a growing dark red area this week, indicating "extreme drought" in southwest Missouri.

The dry area has crept northward, including a larger area of the four-state corners of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The drought is an expansion of a long-standing drought over the southern Great Plains.

In Missouri a broad area of "moderate drought" extends from southwest though northeast Missouri into northern Illinois. The remainder of the state, except for southeast is classified "abnormally dry" by the drought monitor.

The Missouri Bootheel shows adequate rainfall.

"The consequences will be dire if we don't receive decent replenishment of water supplies, above and below ground, before summer arrives," Guinan said.

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