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Heavy Rains Lessen Drought in Iowa, Nebraska

07:24AM May 16, 2014

Recent heavy rainfall has washed away or at least lessened drought conditions in swaths of Nebraska and Iowa, according to a report released Thursday.

The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released its weekly monitor of drought conditions across the country, which identified drenching rains as cause for dramatic improvements in areas of the two states considered to be in drought. Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the center, says overall drought reduced last week by nearly 12 percent in Iowa and about 17 percent in Nebraska.

"That's a big jump for the week, a big jump for improvement," Fuchs said.

Western Iowa saw the greatest improvement in the state, with heavy rainfall removing severe drought conditions and shrinking moderate drought-stricken areas in the region, according to the report. Moderate and dry areas in southeastern Iowa lessened slightly.

Nebraska saw a substantial reduction in the east-central region, with a pocket now considered drought-free. The report notes that rain also led to improved conditions in the Panhandle, where drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to severe have been scaled back.

Fuchs said the significant improvements seen within the past week are noteworthy, as changes in drought status typically occur slowly. Relatively low temperatures and a fairly good chance of seeing more precipitation should continue to help conditions in both states, he said.

Lincoln Mayer Chris Beutler announced Thursday that he's not yet setting any city watering restrictions, though dry spells caused a need for restrictions in previous years. Lincoln Water System officials said in a statement they'll continue to monitor water levels to determine whether conservation efforts will be needed throughout the summer.

Concerns remain in some areas of Nebraska. Fuchs said the far west and southwest regions have not seen the kind of rain other areas of the state have, leaving them in severe to extreme drought.

Kelly Brunkhorst, Nebraska Corn Board's director of research, said it is unfortunate the southwest corner didn't receive the rainfall much of the rest of Nebraska did, and that the drought there is going to affect farms into the summer months.

Improvements in Western Iowa haven't eliminated drought in the area altogether, which is especially a concern for farmers there, said Mark Licht, an Iowa State University agronomist.

"There are some pockets that are really quite dry yet," he said.

And heavy rains haven't yet resulted in flooding issues in fields that have been planted, but they've stalled some northeastern Iowa farmers' planting progress, particularly with corn crop, Licht said. The longer the delay, the greater the risk for a drop in yield potential.

"This last round of rain here is really slowing things down again," Licht said.