The drought has continued to maintain its stronghold on the Southwest. U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey says areas of Oklahoma and Texas endured the longest 6-month dry spell on record. The drought started in October, and the situation has only become worse. While dryness remains strong, with some growers fearful that the lack of moisture will prevent crops from germinating, Rippey doesn't think it's a repeat of 2011 for the Plains.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows 37.2 percent of the U.S. is covered in drought. The most severe category - or what's considered extreme drought - increased slightly to 1.64 percent. The core of that dryness is a pocket covering the Southern Plains.
The drought is already eating away at yields in the Southern Plains. USDA says 37 percent of the country’s wheat is rated poor to very poor. In Texas and Oklahoma, 64 percent of the crop is in poor to very poor condition. Late April rains have swept some of the area, but Rippey says it may be too late to save the crop.
It's those hints of rain that Rippey says is reason for him to not compare this year’s winter drought to 2011. He says 1995 to 1996 is a better comparison.
“Both of those years featured very punishing, short-lived droughts that really lasted 6 or 7 months, but had a huge impact on the winter wheat crop in the Southern Plains,” said Rippey. “But if you go back 1996 and look at the eventual outcome, we ended up getting some good rains starting in May that continued on through the summer, and it turned out to be a pretty good and reasonably cool year for summer crops across the southern high plains.”
Rippey says it’s those rains that helped save some of the summer crops, even as farmers were worried moisture would prevent them from making cotton crop that year.
“It turned out being a good year for example for cotton in Texas,” he said. “The hope is this will continue to be analog from this point forward, news was relatively good in 1996 and we were able to salvage the summer crop season."
Rippey says La Niña is fading, which will help create some weather pattern changes in the South. Looking ahead to this summer, he says it appears the U.S. will see neutral conditions for the remainder of the year, which means the likelihood that either La Niña or El Niño will be present is unlikely.