2012 drought worst since Dust Bowl

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The last Drought Monitor report of 2012 had little good news, reporting that 62 percent of the Lower 48 is still in moderate or worse drought.  No relief is expected for most areas any time soon, and it is forecast to linger well into 2013.

Federal meteorologists are also saying that the drought is now second in size only to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to an article by The Washington Post.

David Unger, a meteorologist at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, told reporters during a morning conference call for areas from western Kansas to Texas and New Mexico to not expect the drought to ease until at least March.  Read, “U.S. drought, covering more than 62 percent of the country, is worst since 1930s.”

The highest levels of drought are clinging to the Plains states, with drought levels in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota remaining virtually unchanged for months. Drought on the southern Plains appears to be quickly gaining speed as Texas and Oklahoma have seen a jump in the intensity of drought:





  • This week: 80 percent in extreme or worse drought
  • Weeks with at least 75 percent in extreme to exceptional drought:  22
  • 7-day precipitation total: With an exception of a band in the central part of the state, between a trace and 0.10 of an inch was reported over much of the eastern edge and western half of the Sunflower State.





  • This week: 96 percent in extreme or worse drought
  • Weeks with at least 75 percent in extreme to exceptional drought:  22
  • 7-day precipitation total: Spotty rain and snow showers left much of the state with less than 0.10 of an inch of precipitation.




South Dakota:

  • This week: 63 percent in extreme or worse drought
  • Weeks with at least 50 percent in extreme to exceptional drought: 16
  • 7-day precipitation total: Like Kansas and Nebraska, very little precipitation fell over the last week. Between a trace and 0.10 of an inch was reported over areas of the state, though a large area in central South Dakota reported a dry week.





  • This week: 95 percent in extreme or worse drought
  • Weeks with at least 75 percent in extreme to exceptional drought:  5
  • 7-day precipitation total: The southeastern part of the state luckily saw some of the heaviest precipitation over the course of the week thanks to the major system that went over the state on Christmas Day. Even with the storm, less than 0.25 of an inch of precipitation was reported over much of the state.





  • This week: 34 percent in extreme or worse drought
  • 7-day precipitation total: Portions of northeastern Texas caught portions of the Christmas Day storm as it trekked to the southeast, but even pockets of 2 inches of precipitation did little to affect the drought conditions.



See how your state is doing here.

The consequences of the drought go far beyond the nation’s cropland. Earlier this week Reuters reported on a message from  the Waterway Council, representing commodity shippers and receivers, which warned that a key stretch of the Mississippi River could “come to an effective halt" as early as next week due to low water levels. Read more here.

An updated Seasonal Drought Outlook was released on Dec. 20. Forecasters expect persistence drought to continue from North Dakota to Texas and from Missouri to Nevada through the end of March. The report did have some good news – some drought improvement was noted in the Southeast and the central Corn Belt, including Iowa and eastern Missouri.

Some producers may already be nervous about next year’s growing season. However, the University of Illinois urged them to instead that “corn and soybean yields are overwhelmingly determined by summer weather conditions, with July weather being the most important.” Read, “Do recent precipitation deficits tell us about next summer?”  

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shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  December, 29, 2012 at 09:43 AM

Yes, the present drought is severe. Yes, the dust bowl drought was severe. Neither, however, are/were as bad as portrayed in the major media (I cringe every time I see Reuters cited in any ag publication) and in popular history. If you study historical precipitation data, which the internet makes ridiculously easy, you will quickly see that for every drought year there is an extremely wet year, and that both of these are statistical outliers. About 60 percent of the time, precipitation is average, falling between 80 and 120 percent of any regional long-term norm. Thirty to 35 percent of the time, the year is "kinda dry" or "a little wet." Five to 10 percent of the time conditions are severely dry or severely wet, which means that severe drought occurs at half that rate, 2.5-5 percent of the time. Geographically, drought is neither monolithic nor binary. Drought never affects the entire nation, nor is it an either-or proposition locally, regionally, nationally, or globally. Just look at the drought monitor maps. The consequences of drought can be troublesome to catastrophic for consumers and producers alike, but drought ALWAYS ends. As my grandfather taught me, the secret to success as a producer is to survive the bad years by banking resources during the good years. Realistic and adequate planning will mitigate drought impacts, but only if you make the plan and use it.

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