The latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook chart posted by NOAA last week has a glimmer of hope for at least part of the Western Corn Belt. For the first time this year, Nebraska is included in the region of the central U.S. with the tag of "drought ongoing, some improvement." In fact, the entire Northern Plains and Midwest have at the very least such a description. This does not, of course, end the drought by any means, but there is at least not a chronic eternity of dry conditions indicated.
In the Southern Plains through the western U.S., it's much different. These areas have "persistence" forecast. And in areas that don't have drought in effect, developing drought is expected.
What's behind the moving of the needle in the northwestern Midwest and the Northern Plains? Here's the commentary from NOAA, with excerpts that focus on this region:
"Climatologically, spring (March - May) brings changing precipitation patterns to much of the country. In California and the Far West, the wet season is winding down during March, and by May precipitation is sparse. In contrast, precipitation normals increase across the northern and central Plains, the southern High Plains, and northern and eastern parts of the Rockies. Historically, these areas receive 3 to 7 percent of their annual precipitation during March while 11 to 19 percent falls in May.
"Because patterns are in flux, few locations are markedly wet or dry for March - May as a whole compared to other times of the year. Distributed evenly, 25 percent of annual precipitation would fall during a 3-month period. In the north-central Rockies and central Plains, 30 to 40 percent of yearly precipitation falls on average during spring, mainly due to the wet May.
"These factors weighed heavily on the updated Drought Outlook for March - May 2013, as they had in the initial outlook released in mid-February. Regarding the large area of extreme to exceptional drought in the Nation's midsection, precipitation normals increase significantly later in the forecast period, and precipitation then will be the primary driving factor behind the Drought Monitor depiction for the end of May.
"Still, with significant precipitation forecast in parts of the central and upper Plains through mid-March--on top of the rain and snow observed in late February--it seems likely that at least some surface moisture increases will be observed. Therefore, some improvement was forecast for much of the northern half of the Plains."
But, there is a caveat to this outlook for the northwestern Midwest and the northern Plains: "With only one month of the wet season included in this forecast period, more substantial, longer-term improvement is unlikely."
As for the Southern Plains, NOAA's outlook is not optimistic:
"Additionally, the 3-month outlook favors below-median precipitation across roughly the southwest half of the extreme to exceptional drought area. There are equal chances for wetness and dryness in the rest of the area."
And, for the eastern Corn Belt, we have discussed the improving moisture pattern repeatedly, and the NOAA commentary does as well:
"Off to the East, there are enhanced chances for above-normal spring precipitation from the Mississippi Valley eastward into the Great Lakes region, and at least light to moderate precipitation is forecast during the near-term. Thus, drought conditions are expected to improve."
Bryce Anderson can be reached at email@example.com
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