Drought spreads across large portions of U.S.
for The Fence Post
More than 33 percent of the continental U.S. is in moderate to extreme drought, with another 21 percent considered abnormally dry, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.
Compared to the previous week’s map, some areas of the U.S. saw some improvement while other areas went deeper into drought. The expansion of areas in drought outweighed the areas that showed improvement, however, meaning the U.S. drought footprint grew compared to the drought monitor update from last week.
“Drought or abnormal dryness expanded or intensified where this week’s dry weather continued a drying trend,” according to the drought monitor update released by the national Centers for Environmental Information on Thursday, “especially in the Southwest and Midwest, but also in a few spots in the southern Plains, Southeast and New England.” The drought monitor map is released weekly on Thursday and covers data through each Tuesday.
In the Midwest, a new area of extreme drought cropped up in Iowa, covering 6 percent of the state. The area of Iowa with no drought is now at 20 percent, down from 37 percent the previous week.
In Colorado, the entire state is considered to be in abnormally dry to extreme drought and 59 percent of that is severe to extreme. In western Wyoming 12 percent of the state is not in drought, down slightly from 14 percent in last week’s drought map. The remainder of the state is abnormally dry to extreme drought, with 5 percent of the state in extreme drought.
Precipitation from Tropical Storm Isaias brought some relief to the east coast. There was also rain in the central plains through the Midwest, with cooler temperatures in areas of Kansas and above normal rain in areas of Kansas, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. On the other hand, temperatures were well above normal in other spots, including the Northwest, Southwest and from the Mid-Atlantic north to New England, the drought monitor said in its weekly summary.
In the Nebraska panhandle and northeast Colorado, moderate drought expanded from last week. A new area of severe drought was added to the map in eastern Nebraska and moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions expanded in areas of Wyoming.
Looking to the Midwest, portions of northern Midwest remain dry. On the other hand, some conditions improved in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and parts of Ohio, thanks to rain.
EYE ON COLORADO
Drought isn’t new in Colorado, of course. “We have some areas usually in drought almost every year,” said Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist at Colorado Climate Center. “But this one is a little bit more severe.”
Although conditions vary across the state, overall it’s been hot and windy with dry humidity, so a lot of precipitation evaporated before it could soak into the ground. “There has been rainstorms but they’ve been spotty,” she said. “So they are not widespread enough to be helpful.”
It’s not quite as bad as in 2012 and 2013, which had hotter and drier conditions. But it’s worse than the drought of 2018, when moisture the previous fall helped farmers bring in a good winter wheat crop, Bolinger said. This year’s winter wheat struggled and although it’s good news some was harvested, not all of it could be salvaged.
Looking ahead, a lot hinges on whether the state will get more rain, she said. Cattle producers have been struggling all summer, forced to put animals on emergency grazing lands and feed supplemental hay. If it rains in August and September, before the grass goes dormant, that will help cattle producers as well as next year’s winter wheat crop. “Hopefully next year is a better year,” she said.
Thanks to some drought in the higher elevations, another thing to keep an eye on is the water level in the reservoirs. “It’s not a worrying situation now but it’s something we want to turn around,” she said. “If we have another bad year next summer it will be really painful.”
In western Colorado, the irrigated crops in a four-county area served by the Colorado State University Extension Tri-River Area are doing well, despite being in severe to extreme drought, said Susan Carter, horticulture and natural resources agent for that office. The exception is that an April frost reduced fruit production, such as peaches.
The concern moving forward is, without additional rain, irrigation water could potentially be limited, especially in counties not as close to the rivers. It’s up to everyone to conserve water, she said, so there’s enough water for agriculture and residential uses.
Drought is also putting native trees under stress, leaving them vulnerable to attack by multiple types of insects. Without enough water, more trees are dying from these attacks. “Which adds to our fire risk,” she said.
In Baca County, the furthest southeast county of Colorado, Kevin Larson, superintendent and research scientist at Plainsman Research Center, said things are actually looking better. In early July the whole southeastern corner of the state was in extreme drought, now part of that has been upgraded to severe drought thanks to July rains. It’s definitely improving,” he said.
Some of the acres of prevented plant corn were planted with grain sorghum in late June. Although those crops have come up, whether there will be a good harvest depends on if there’s an early or late frost, he said. And if moisture continues to build up farmers will be able to put in winter wheat in September. Still, it’s an improvement over earlier in the summer when virtually nothing was growing. ❖
— Jessen is a freelance writer living in Minnesota with her nurse husband and daughter. They recently settled down after more than three years living a travel lifestyle, thanks to her husband’s travel nurse job. She can be reached at email@example.com