Despite harvest-slowing rains in many areas, the long-term drought is expected to persist or intensify.
Despite widespread, harvest-slowing rains over a wide swath of the Upper Midwest in October, the long-term drought is expected to persist or intensify across much of Iowa, western Illinois, and northern Missouri, according to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, a joint publication of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and USDA.
Drought is also expected to persist or develop across the Southwest, western California, and parts of the western Corn Belt, including the western half of both Nebraska and Kansas, according to the outlook, released Oct. 17.
Short-term, the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, released Oct. 24, shows major improvement across the central and eastern United States. Area affected by drought receded to its smallest geographical area since May 2012. Drought in the western states, however, was mostly unchanged.
"Another week of widespread precipitation in Minnesota and Wisconsin helped to ease concerns over dryness," states the weekly National Drought Summary. In Minnesota, improvements occurred in moderate drought areas in the central portion of the state.
"We have see some recovery in soil moisture, especially the top foot to two feet, but deeper soil levels are still lacking, and we need more precipitation to percolate to the deeper levels," says Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center. "The western and eastern edges of the Corn Belt are better, but the central Corn Belt still has some deficits."
Northern Missouri, Iowa, central Illinois and northern Indiana are particularly lacking in soil moisture below two feet.
Without major rain events between now and when the ground freezes, the deeper layers of soil in the central Corn Belt will be dry to start the 2014-15 crop season. Crops tap into the deeper soil moisture during dry periods, but that moisture likely will not be available next year without above-normal rainfall next spring. Deep soil moisture deficits could hamper crop production next year, Fuchs adds.
"Any precipitation that we get this fall will be stored and used next spring during planting season," says Fuchs. "But this is the time of year when we don’t anticipate too many more big rain events."
The western portions of Nebraska and Kansas remain in severe drought. Irrigation used in Kansas over the past decade or so has caused the underlying aquifer’s water level to drop.
"Many producers have no more water to pump, or it is not cost effective to pump the water up from such great depths," says Fuchs. Recovery of the water level in the part of the Ogallala aquifer underlying western Kansas is not anticipated, he says.