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Drought in Plains and Southeast, says NOAA’s winter forecast

Winter will be drier and warmer than usual for the central to southern Plains and the Southeast, said government forecasters on Thursday, suggesting there would be little drought relief in major wheat-growing states or precipitation to restore water levels in the Mississippi River. It would be the third U.S. winter in a row under the La Niña pattern, which typically brings warmer and drier weather to the U.S. southern tier, from California to the Carolinas.

“Drought conditions are now present across approximately 59% of the country, but parts of the western United States and southern Great Plains will continue to be the hardest hit this winter,” said Jon Gottschalck of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “With the La Niña climate pattern still in place, drought conditions also may expand to the Gulf Coast.”

Seventy percent of U.S. winter wheat territory was in drought, ranging from moderate to exceptional. In Kansas, which grows a quarter of the U.S. winter wheat crop, 88% of the land was in drought. Growers have planted 69% of the hardy crop, which sprouts in the fall, lies dormant during the winter, begins growing again in the spring, and is harvested from May through August.

Low water on the Mississippi has slowed harvest shipments of midwestern crops to export terminals on the Gulf Coast and the transportation upstream of fertilizer and other materials for the new crop year.

“Widespread extreme drought continues to persist across much of the West, the Great Basin, and the central to southern Plains,” said the three-month Seasonal Drought Outlook, also released on Thursday. “Drought is expected to impact the middle and lower Mississippi Valley this winter.” Persistent drought in the Plains “is related in part to an increasingly dry climatology during the late fall and winter.”

Below-normal precipitation in the lower Mississippi Valley would “lead to continued low water levels and exacerbate drought conditions there,” said Gottschalck, according to Reuters.

While La Niña brings warmer and drier weather to the southern tier of states, it typically makes winters wetter in the Pacific Northwest and the eastern Corn Belt.

NOAA’s Winter Outlook map, which depicts the forecast conditions from December through February, reflected those patterns and said colder than usual temperatures were expected this winter from the western Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest.

To watch a 33-second NOAA animation of its winter drought outlook, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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