Drought Worsens, Winter Wheat the Current Victim

December 6, 2012 11:00 PM
Drought Worsens, Winter Wheat the Current Victim

The U.S. drought, which covers more than half the country, is worsening again. Both the hard red winter wheat crop and shipping on the Mississippi River have become the most recent focus of the drought.

Businesses that ship goods up and down the Mississippi River have become increasingly alarmed over the river’s declining water level. The carriers have asked the White House for an emergency declaration to dynamite part of the riverbed in an effort to maintain commercial traffic on the river.

In addition the companies have asked the U.S. Army Crop of Engineers to reverse its annual reduction of water inflows from the Missouri River. However, sources note that federal law mandates that the Corps maintain water levels in the Missouri by reducing inflows to the Mississippi.

While shipments are still moving along the Mississippi, problems could develop later this month if drought continues or worsens. The last time the Crops dynamited rocks in the river was during the 1988-89 drought.

Until recently, it appeared that the U.S. drought was waning. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, the drought both expanded and intensified in the week ending November 20 and again this week. Prior to that, data showed that the drought had been slowly but steadily receding since peaking September 25, when 54.77% of the contiguous United States was in moderate or worse drought. As of the week ending November 27, 52.44% of the country was experiencing moderate or worse drought conditions. The week before, 50.3% of the country had similar conditions.

Drought worsened in the Southeast and Oklahoma. "In the Southeast, the area in moderate drought or worse increased to 46.75% this week from 30.76% last week, with a smaller increase in the area in severe drought," says the National Drought Mitigation Center in its weekly press release. "The drought entrenched over the Plains showed mainly small changes. Conditions in South Dakota eased slightly, although in Oklahoma, extreme drought increased to 90.5%  from 71.86%."

Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, says extreme to exceptional drought is affecting all six major wheat-growing states. "Hard red winter wheat is really hurting right now," says Rippey. "The crop is rated between 24% poor to very poor in Kansas to 64% poor to very poor in South Dakota."

The crop, which is going dormant, could potentially recover by spring, Rippey says. "The ideal situation would be snowstorms like what we saw in Montana recently, and then in March and April, we need a cool, damp spring."

This year, drought has covered the largest area in the United States in the 13-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. However, the Palmer Drought Severity Index shows that the extent of drought in both the 1950s and 1930s was larger.

"It’s interesting that the atmosphere over North America resembles a La Niña configuration," says Rippey. La Niña typically means dryness in the central and southern plains. "But other factors are making the weather act as a La Niña." Currently neither an El Niño nor a La Niña is in play.


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Spell Check

12/7/2012 07:50 PM

  Nice to read about the US Army CROP of Engineers. Did the Army CROP suffer from the lack of rain this summer? Perhaps the Army had good CORPS insurance.


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