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Extremes bookend Plains weather

Jeff Caldwell 04/12/2011 @ 9:18am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If only farmers in the southern Plains and those in North Dakota could share a little of their field conditions with one another, they'd be a lot better off. Instead, both groups are fighting historic extremes in crop weather and its effects on the landscape.

The southern Plains is right now the "land of too little" when it comes to moisture, and recent crop reporting shows what that's doing to the region's staple crop, hard red winter wheat. Nationwide, 36% of the HRW crop is rated in poor or very poor condition, according to USDA. That number's driven by Texas and Oklahoma, where 66% and 60% of the crop is in poor/very poor shape, respectively, USDA said Monday.

And now, it's starting to get near the point of no return for some wheat farmers, at least in Texas, says Craig Solberg, meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. "Twenty-two percent of the Texas crop is now heading, and 85% of the Oklahoma wheat crop is now jointing; given that advanced state of the crop, one wonders how much more abuse it can take before farmers give up on that crop and hope for spring rains to fall in time to plant a summer crop," Solberg says.

The drought conditions in that region have also spawned fires that have burned thousands of acres in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, as well as southwestern Kansas.

Meanwhile, it's the land of too much on the opposite side of the nation's midsection. After a winter under heavy snowpack, spring has brought a monumental thaw to the Red River Basin of eastern North Dakota. The result: Flooding like residents of Fargo and Moorhead, North Dakota, and the surrounding areas have never seen.

"Portions of northeastern Cass County and northwestern Clay County are experiencing the highest flood levels ever seen," says NOAA National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust. "Areas along the Red River northward from Fargo-Moorhead into Perley, Halstad, Grand Forks, Oslo, Drayton and Pembina are all seeing increased breakout flows and rural flooding as the river exceeds moderate and major flood stages. Numerous county and state roads are closed throughout the basin."

Spotty weekend rainfall added up to 3/4 of an inch to existing snowmelt moisture in parts of North Dakota, increasing flows on the Red and Sheyenne rivers as well as levels in the Devils Lake Basin, Gust says. The Red River at Fargo reached a "preliminary crest" on Saturday at 38.75 feet, well above the "major flood level" of 30 feet. Since then, Gust says the river has receded, but is expected to stay above flood level for "2 weeks or more."

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