Ag Weather Forum

Flood to Drought in 1 Year

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Eastern Nebraska areas that suffered record flooding in 2019 are now dealing with extreme drought in autumn 2020. (National Drought Mitigation Center graphic)

What a difference a period of 18 months makes. In March of 2019, the northeastern third of Nebraska was torn apart by catastrophic flooding. Farming was severely disrupted and repairs to rural communities took months; some repair is likely not yet complete.

Now we jump to fall 2020. As everyone knows, flooding is not the problem issue in the region; it's drought. Those eastern Nebraska counties that were flooded in spring a year ago are now in either severe or extreme drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That full-on change from deluge to drought was emphasized in early October when USDA declared six counties in Nebraska as primary natural disaster areas. Five of the primary disaster counties were in the path of the 2019 floods. The flood-to-drought area is expanded by contiguous counties to the primary designated areas also falling into the disaster declaration footprint.

On a larger scale, western and central U.S. drought that developed in the last half of the 2020 summer is one of a record-tying 16 weather and climate events which resulted in damage of $1 billion or more. The $16 billion-damage events through the first nine months of the year match the totals in 2011 and 2017.

For drought itself, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) for September offers this description:

"According to the Sept. 29 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 42.6% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up about 3 percentage points from the beginning of September. This is the largest drought footprint across the CONUS (contiguous U.S.) since September 2013. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across much of the Northeast and the western half of the contiguous U.S."

The seemingly quick reversal from flood to drought is profound, but not a complete shock to Nebraska state climatologist Martha Shulski.

"The wide swings ... indeed. Nebraska climate is trending toward wetter, but punctuated by seemingly rapid onset drought events," Shulski said in an email reply to DTN. "In addition, the dry spells are getting drier, the wet spells are getting wetter. These trends need to be taken into account for water management practices."

The full list of 2020 (to date) billion-dollar U.S. weather and climate disaster events is at this link: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/…

Bryce Anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

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