USDA Meteorologist: Don’t Expect Drought to Disappear this Summer

June 25, 2018 02:41 PM

Walking on the dry soils in west Texas, farmers are reminded of 2011. That was a year when rainfall was absent during the summer months, and triple digit heat scorched the crop in the ground. A total of 5.86 inches of rain was recorded the entire year, making it the driest year on record for the area.

While 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2011, it’s signaling many similarities.

“In this country, normally it’s a pretty dry winter anyway; we don't have a lot of moisture,” said Mark Scheopf, who farms near Lorenzo, Texas “But it's been extremely dry.”

The soils across west Texas aren’t just parched; the dirt hasn’t seen decent rain the majority the year. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey says so far this year, the Lubbock, Texas area recorded 3.64 inches of rain since January 1. That’s 42 percent of the area’s normal January through June rainfall amount.

The Lubbock National Weather Service (NWS) reports that the rainfall has been sporadic. Near the NWS’ office in southern Lubbock, the station has received 4.79 inches of rain, whereas southern Lubbock County received closer to 6 inches so far this year.

The little moisture the area has seen doesn't lasted long, as high heat and fierce winds quickly dissipates any moisture. The NWS says Lubbock hit 108°F on June 24, with no moisture in the forecast over the next five days.

While parts of Texas are starting to see more chances of rain, the area has a lot of ground to make up, as moisture has been more than inadequate. Even if it starts raining soon, Rippey doesn’t know if it’s enough to recharge the soils where moisture is nearly non-existent.

“Given what they're facing - because it's been so dry- it takes a long time, especially during the summer, to moisten things back up,” said Rippey. “The fact that temperatures remain elevated, it probably will continue to see drought on through the rest of the summer.”

While drought may stick around, Rippey said it’s not a repeat of 2011 in the area. The differences are also something AgDay/U.S. Farm Report meteorologist Mike Hoffman is watching. 

“There's just a lot more moisture involved in the systems- it just takes a long time to come out of the drought, unless you get some tropical system that comes up just puts a whole bunch of rain although a lot of that runs off,” Hoffman said.

He said the cure for drought is not only rain, but time. It’s time that farmers don’t have, as their freshly planted crops sit in dry soils struggle to germinate.

“More than a third of the cotton crop is rated very poor to poor in Texas,” said Rippey. “About a quarter very poor to poor in Oklahoma. It does have some hurdles to overcome, so unless we do get a system parked over that region, I do expect some higher abandonment than what we had last year.”

High heat and high winds are adding to crop stress. He said heat will cover Missouri, as well as areas south and west in the coming weeks.

“Drought is over more than a quarter of the country,” said Rippey. “Virtually the entire southwestern quadrant of the nation is experiencing some level of drought at this point. It’s tough to make that go away in the heart of summer.”

Both Rippey and Hoffman say moisture can chip away at dryness, but the heat combination will make it even tougher for drought to disappear.

However, moisture could see better chances of hitting drought areas as the monsoon season in July and August draws near.

“I think that we have turned the corner a little bit across the plains and the monsoon season should help in the southwest and the southern High Plains,” said Rippey.

“I think we're both agreeing that we're going to have a fairly good monsoon season this time of the year,” said Hoffman. “The monsoon is just the time of year where they get most of their rain in the southwestern part of the country.”

The recent rains in the Southwest are derived from Pacific moisture. The moisture that fell leading up to the official monsoon season is a positive sign from Rippey’s perspective, but he knows the area will need much more than just “normal” rainfall to help the soils recover.

“We've already seen a couple of tropical cyclones from the Pacific producing moisture in the southwest at an unusual time of year,” said Rippey. “Hopefully that's a hint of some of the moisture to come for the Southwest when we get into the full-fledged monsoon season in July and August. We still have a long way to go to make up for the shortfall moisture that we've had and we've caught.”

As farmers in the Southwest are hopeful the annual monsoon season is fruitful with rain, moisture needs to fall soon or some farmers won’t have a crop to harvest this year.

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