Neb. sits in the oven of the drought

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012

Three-quarters of Nebraska is in a state of exceptional drought, the most drastic level on the U.S. Drought Monitor scale, according to this week’s report.

That’s the greatest extent in the D4 category — the designation for exceptional drought — that the state has ever seen, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center and co-author of this week’s Drought Monitor. Svoboda happens to be based in the middle of it, at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

“You’re seeing a lot of tree mortality, you’re seeing huge cracks in the ground,” Svoboda said, but “the West is where you really saw the desiccation of drought.”

Nebraska, home of the university that produces the Drought Monitor weekly, is one of the top five states in corn and soybean production, and second to Texas in cattle numbers.

What has saved its economy is that the state also heads the nation in the number of irrigated corn acres.

“Those crops didn’t take nearly the beating that the dryland crops did,” Svoboda said.

Overall, the drought has eased through the Great Plains states of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Georgia, Illinois and Missouri, but moved northward. Conditions have deteriorated in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming.

The latest Drought Monitor shows that 54.04 percent of the contiguous United States is sustaining moderate drought conditions or worse, slightly less than last week’s 54.77 percent, the highest percentage since the 1950s. The exceptional drought rate for the country is 5.07 percent, just below last week’s 5.12 percent.

Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned governors of Western states to brace themselves for a continued drought through the end of the year (Greenwire, Oct. 4).