Drought in U.S. intensified in March — USDA

Source: Henry Gass, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Drought grew slightly in the United States last month, endangering more crops and creating Dust Bowl-like conditions.
In the lower 48 states, drought coverage increased 2.5 percent last month, reaching its highest level since October 2013. Drought coverage has now increased by more than 7 percent this year. The southern Great Plains had some of the hardest-hit areas, according to Brad Rippey, meteorologist for the Department of Agriculture.”Dry, windy, dusty conditions led to drought intensification on the southern Great Plains in March,” Rippey said in a press release. Last month, he added, “Coverage of extreme drought climbed from 8 to 14 percent in Kansas, while extreme to exceptional drought coverage rose from 13 to 24 percent in Oklahoma and 7 to 10 percent in Texas.”Perhaps the biggest casualty of last month’s intensified drought, particularly in the southern Great Plains region, was the winter wheat crop.

By the end of the month, 59 percent of the Texas wheat crop was rated in poor to very poor condition by the USDA. The Texas rice farming industry has also been crippled by the ongoing drought, with some farmers switching to corn, which has a lower water demand but also a lower profit margin (Greenwire, April 7).

Overall, the portion of winter wheat crop in drought rose from 45 to 52 percent last month, Rippey said. In Oklahoma, the USDA rated 44 percent of the wheat crop in poor to very poor condition, with the rate at 33 percent in Colorado and 25 percent in Kansas.

Colorado farmers are also suffering through the drought: The Denver Post reported that Dust Bowl conditions are becoming more prevalent in the southeastern corner of the state — a region that hasn’t seen normal amounts of rain since 2007. This drought officially began in the summer of 2010, meaning that in southeast Colorado’s Arkansas Valley the dry period has been longer than it was during the 1930s Dust Bowl, according to Nolan Doesken, a climatologist at Colorado State University.

In more northern states, however, the winter wheat crop is faring quite well. The USDA rated 58 percent of South Dakota’s crop in good to excellent condition, as well as 56 percent of Arkansas’ and 55 percent of Nebraska’s crops.