Ag Weather Forum

Notable Southern Plains Dryness

Mike Palmerino
By  Mike Palmerino , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
Dryness, heat and strong winds leave wheat fields camouflaged by blowing dust. (Photo courtesy of Leon Kriesel)

Soils are definitely drying out over western portions of the Southern Plains. Very warm and dry weather is taking its toll on soil moisture levels. Western Kansas topsoil ratings now have 76 to 82% rated short to very short. Oklahoma reported experiencing one of its warmest Februarys on record.

This dry weather is having little impact on crop conditions so far. The reason for this is that crop moisture needs are low at this time of the year with the crop vegetative to some early jointing. The greatest moisture needs are when the crop is heading. However, Good to Excellent wheat rating totals in Kansas, at 43%, are running 13 percentage points below a year ago. In addition, the portion of the Kansas wheat crop rated Poor to Very Poor is triple that of last year -- 22% in 2017 versus 7% Poor to Very Poor at this same time a year ago.

With an El Nino signature to the weather pattern across the U.S., we would expect to see an increase in rainfall in the Southern Plains during the spring and would not be surprised if some beneficial rains occur by the end of the month. This moisture will be necessary for wheat moving into the high-moisture requirement stages of post-dormancy. The timeline for wheat's post-dormancy phase has also been accelerated by the very warm weather in February, when, for example, western Kansas average temperatures were between 7 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Regarding El Nino: Our latest calculation of the sea surface temperature departure in the eastern equatorial Pacific stands at 1.9 degrees Celsius (about 4 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal for the month of February. This is up from 0.9 degree Celsius above normal observed during the month of January.

Michael Palmerino can be reached at



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