Brutal drought intensifies: Where’s El Niño?

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Drought Monitor- August 9, 2012 Not even spotty – though welcomed – rain this week could rescue the nation’s heartland from the grips of the now historic 2012 drought. 

According to the latest Drought Monitor map, many areas in key corn- and soybean-producing states are smothered in hues of red and maroon, indicating the most brutal levels of drought. Even Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and U.S. Drought Monitor author, admitted that it’s “hard to believe that it's getting worse, but it is, even with some rain in the region.”

"Drought continues to intensify through the Midwest and Plains states," he added.

Just how bad is it?

More than half of the country’s corn-growing farmland is suffering from extreme and exceptional drought, compared to 14 percent reported in these same acres less than a month ago.

"This week, we saw extreme and exceptional drought continue to expand or intensify over parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois," Fuchs said. "[Exceptional] drought has been introduced from east central Kansas to west central Missouri."

The outlook for the country’s crops and livestock herds are bleak. As Reuters reports, corn and soybean condition have fallen to the lowest since the major drought of 1988, propelling prices of both crops to all-time highs last month.

“Reports of water-related impacts are ticking upward with each passing week as mandatory restrictions continue to ramp upward,” Fuchs wrote in the Drought Monitor report.  “As the drought continues, this will undoubtedly become a more prevalent issue as the agriculture season passes and attention turns to next year's crops or herds."

Rain is expected to dot the Midwest through the next week, though it’s unlikely that the region will receive enough widespread rain to make a dent in meeting water needs or save crops.

click image to zoomRain neededWeather Channel  "Every day we go without significant rain ... is tightening the noose," said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center, told Reuters.

Moving out of summer and into fall, the weather pattern still looks mostly dry for these Midwest and Plains states, so chances of substantial rainfall in the near term are thin, he said.

"We have sort of reached the apex. We are way behind the 8-ball here," said Svoboda.

To fully reverse the drought, many areas need at least 12 inches of rain, as reported by the Weather Channel. Some, such as northeastern Kansas, northern Arkansas, western Illinois, and southwestern Indiana will require 15 inches or more to quench the drought.

“With average monthly precipitation in August and September generally ranging from 1.5 to over 4 inches in many of these areas, it may take months to fully wipe out the Drought of 2012,” Jon Erdman with the Weather Channel wrote.

click image to zoomLong-Term Drought Though the news may be bleak, the Climate Prediction Center released some home in their Long-Term Drought Indicator. The results are good for the Midwest with the drought forecast to ease to at least moderate levels. It should be noted, however, that this experimental mad is based on preliminary climate division data and should be interpreted too literally.

There is another glimmer of hope: the return of El Niño. NOAA’s Klaus Wolter says that six variables – sea-level air pressure, components of the surface winds, sea-surface temperatures, surface air temperatures and cloudiness – indicate that drought-easing El Niño may soon be here. 

As Stu Ellis wrote in his FarmGate blog, “a change in the weather will soon be happening, with the announcement that El Niño meteorological conditions have been confirmed in the Equatorial Pacific. Such a climatic change will bring improvements to Corn Belt weather that will be more conducive to rebuilding soil moisture this winter and better growing season moisture in 2012.”

With just 23 percent of corn in good to excellent condition, relief that will come with El Niño's arrival may come too late. Much of the nation’s corn crop pollinated during the hot and dry weather, slashing its potential yield. The USDA will release its first crop production estimated on August 10, and they will likely be aggressive in lowering the yield. Even so, there is uncertainty over harvest acreage since many corn fields have already been chopped for livestock feed.



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