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Storms Fuel Major Drought Reductions in Parts of Plains, Midwest

Jeff Caldwell 06/19/2014 @ 8:36am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The heavy rain that's fallen in parts of the Midwest over the last week has caused unprecedented change in the drought conditions that, until recently, prevailed over much of the region. In the meantime, more modest rainfall amounts in the southern Plains took a small bite out of the drought conditions there, according to Thursday's U.S. Drought Monitor update.

"Drought conditions continued to decline this past week, with 35.55% of the contiguous U.S. in drought (compared to 36.15% last week)," says Don Keeney, senior ag meteorologist with MDA Weather Services. "The improvements were most notable across the central and southern Plains and western Midwest once again. Additional reductions are expected across the central and southern Plains and southwestern Midwest over the next 10 days."

These improvements are mainly based on a few rounds of storms that have moved through the nation's center, some inflicting severe damage on crops and small towns in Nebraska, for example.


"Persistent, repetitive showers and thunderstorms inundated areas from eastern Nebraska and southeast South Dakota into southern Minnesota and northern Iowa with 3 to 8 inches of rainfall; these amounts may be conservative, with radar-derived estimates as high as 12 inches," says USDA meteorologist Eric Luebehusen. "Rain of this magnitude was more than sufficient to warrant a rare, but not unheard of, 2-category improvement, eliminating moderate drought (D1) and abnormal dryness (D0) from the hardest-hit locales."

In the hard-hit southern Plains, Luebehusen says the relief has been lighter in the last week, but there has been some relief and reductions in drought conditions in parts of Texas and Oklahoma as wheat harvest rolls through that region. Still, other parts of the Lone Star state saw the drought ratchet tighten slightly.

"Despite temperatures in the 90s, rainfall during the week was sufficient to warrant some modest reductions in drought from northern and central Oklahoma southward into central Texas, while hot, mostly dry conditions in western and northeastern portions of Texas led to small increases in drought intensity. Showers and thunderstorms dropped 1 to locally more than 2 inches of rain across much of central and northeastern Oklahoma, which -- while not nearly enough to warrant widespread drought reduction or removal -- were enough to improve pastures and summer crop prospects," Luebehusen says. "In Texas, similar amounts of rainfall were reported from Lubbock southeast toward Waco and southward into Austin and San Antonio. Consequently, reductions in drought intensity were made in areas where the heaviest rain fell."

Just to the north, the central Plains have seen more improvements in drought conditions, with rainfall amounts tallying up to almost 2 1/2 times normal. The improvements, while welcomed by the region's farmers, will likely be too late to amount to much help for winter wheat crop since harvest is underway.

"In improved areas, precipitation over the past 30 days has averaged 150% to 240% of normal. The improved conditions are noted in the June 15 USDA-NASS crop condition report for Kansas: winter wheat, which is beyond benefiting from rainfall, was rated 63% poor to very poor, while corn was only 9% poor to very poor," Luebehusen says.

Wheat harvest has reached the northern third of the state in central Kansas, with progress inching toward the midpoint of the state in western and eastern Kansas, according to Kansas Wheat.

"During the day on Wednesday, June 18, harvest commenced in nearly all of southern Kansas, from Hamilton to Cherokee counties. In the central part of the state it even progressed northward to just shy of the Nebraska border," says Jordan Hildebrand of Kansas Wheat. "Farmers are seeing lower-than-normal yields statewide, along with a higher protein content than usual."

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