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Mother Nature takes baby steps away from drought

Jeff Caldwell 10/22/2012 @ 10:11am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Rains continue to crisscross through the Midwest, and now there's reason to believe a variable that's not been much a part of the weather conversation this summer and early fall could lead to a turn away from overall dry conditions.

The flow of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico up to the Midwest has increased over the last couple of weeks, and that's been largely responsible for the more frequent rainfall events in that time period. Though it's far from a drought-buster, the recent rainfall opens the door to hopes that a period of more plentiful moisture could chip away at the shortfall that's gutted many farmers' crops this year.

"It is possible that the recent flow of moist air into the Midwest may be a response to a change in the trend toward diminished incursion of moist air that initiated in mid-March," says Iowa State University Extension ag meteorologist and weather expert Elwynn Taylor. "The precipitation events since late September give some reason to anticipate a 'more normal' Midwest moisture pattern during this fall season."

After Hurricane Isaac pushed some moisture as far north as the southern Corn Belt in late August, the northward moisture movement has kept conditions more active, especially rain-wise, says MDA EarthSat Weather senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. That trend will likely continue.

"We saw an active storm track across the northern Midwest through September, near the Great Lakes, which in turn caused a southerly flow across the rest of the central and southern Midwest and eastern Delta and brought moisture northward from the Gulf," Keeney says.

So, to the million-dollar question: Is the drought drawing to its end? The recent rainfall's definitely helped, but it's still way too early to call it over, experts agree.

"Statistics released with the U.S. Drought Monitor map showed that 52.21% of the country was in moderate drought or worse, down from 53.18% the week before. All categories of drought showed slight improvements," says Kelly Helm Smith of the National Drought Mitigation Center in regard to the most recent Drought Monitor map released late last week. "The map showed 32.48% in severe drought or worse, down slightly from 33.39% a week earlier; 15.96% in extreme drought or worse, compared with 16.85% the week before; and 4.88% in exceptional drought, compared with 5.16% the preceding week."

It's certainly a step in the right direction, but it's only a step, and there's quite a ways to go.

"Even though we've seen an increase in moisture, there are still some long-term moisture deficits, especially in the west-central Midwest," Keeney says.

Dave Kirchhoff is one of the farmers whose crop has been tripped up by the drought this year, and even to this point, the Tripoli, Iowa, farmer says, his fields are anywhere between 17 and 20 inches short on moisture. That's not only got him thinking differently in terms of his field conditions, but also regarding his grain marketing plans moving forward.

"I'm still pretty bullish corn given the ending stocks numbers we've seen. We're pretty much holding off on any more sales, especially since we don't know what the year's going to bring for rainfall going into 2013," says Kirchhoff. "In our area, we're 17 to 20 inches off normal, and until we get some of that before the ground freezes up. Because once the ground freezes up, you might as well wait until spring to get it."

   

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