Drought maintains grip on some ag states as El Niño fizzles

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The news is more of the same for the nation's midsection as the drought shows little sign of easing. Currently, 62 percent of the United States is in moderate or worse drought, with the highest concentration of drought centered in the nation’s heartland.

Three states in particular have reported the highest levels of drought in the country:

  • Nebraska:  More than three-fourths of the state is covered in exceptional drought, the most extreme level reported by the Drought Monitor.  According to data from the National Weather Service, the majority of Nebraska saw less than one-half inch of rain during the past 30 days, with the extreme southwestern corner of the state reporting up to 2 to 3 inches of the valuable moisture. The same corner is the only part of the state to be in severe drought. Compared to last week, conditions shifted very little.
  • Kansas: The Sunflower State, while still one of the worst drought-plagued state in the Union, showed the biggest improvement of the Plains states. Thanks to a wetter weather pattern last weekend, extreme or worse drought conditions dropped from 96 percent to 78 percent. Western sections of Kansas represent the majority of the state’s exceptional levels of drought.
  • South Dakota: Just three months ago, just 45 percent of the state was in severe drought.  Currently, however, 91 percent of South Dakota is in severe or worse drought. With 33 percent in exceptional drought, this week marks the highest percentage of drought at that level in the state’s 12-year Drought Monitor history. Like Nebraska, less than one inch of rain has fallen across the state during the last 30 days.

Some key agricultural states were able to make strides in shifting to improved drought conditions. Ninety-nine percent of Missouri was covered in extreme to exceptional drought on Aug. 21, yet the return of moisture has recently dropped this down to 12 percent. Indiana reported 25 percent of the state in exceptional drought on Aug. 7, and now 25 percent of it is in moderate drought. See how your state is doing here.

While improvement was made to some hard-hit states, the long-term outlook is for the drought to last in most the heartland through the end of January.  Read more.

Is El Niño a bust?

El Niño, the weather phenomenon that was hailed earlier this year as a hero to the Midwestern drought, appears to be stalling. Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lowered the odds that an El Niño would develop from 70 to 55 percent. According to The Washington Post, the Pacific remains “on the cusp” of El Niño conditions, and despite questions of El Niño’s questionable development, an El Niño watch is still in effect.

The last significant El Niño coincided with the 2009-2010 winter, which produced powerful winter storms across the country.

If El Niño doesn’t materialize, it’s possible that the Pacific could remain in the neutral phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which some call “La Nada.” In a La Nada scenario, the winter weather pattern’s evolution will be a wild card.

“With La Nada, it’s like teenagers without rules. It’s unconstrained and unpredictable,” NASA climatologist Bill Paltzert told the Los Angeles Times in a report available here.

Read, “El Nino may fizzle and fall short of hype.”



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