Ag Weather Forum

Major Southern Plains Drought Development

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Ag Meteorologist and DTN Analyst
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U.S. Drought Monitor side-by-side rendition shows much more intense and widespread drought compared with a year ago -- including Extreme Drought (bright red). (Drought Monitor graphic by Nick Scalise)

Drought conditions in the Southern Plains during this winter 2017-18 look very similar to the beginning of the harsh drought of 2011-13. And, the situation is much drier now than a year ago. At the end of January 2017, Texas was almost entirely drought free. There was moderate to severe drought in Oklahoma and western Kansas, with some dryness in eastern Kansas -- but that was it. For the Southern Plains (as defined by USDA Climate Hub delineation), only 34% of the region was in some phase of dryness or drought last year at the end of January.

This year, the situation is, as has been discussed and noted, much, much drier. The Drought Monitor valid January 30, 2018, had 92% of the Southern Plains in some phase of dryness or drought -- close to three times the dryness/drought area coverage last year. And the area affected by severe, extreme or exceptional drought has ballooned this year to 33% of the region -- five times the 7% covered by severe drought or worse last year.

La Nina has certainly made its impact; dryness in the Southern Plains during winter is a textbook feature of La Nina.

Here's how the U.S. Drought Monitor summary described things this past week (week of January 30, 2018):

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"No precipitation fell this week across western portions of Oklahoma and Texas. In fact, southeast Oklahoma, where half an inch of rain was observed, was the only part of that state having more than a tenth of an inch. Most of Texas had less than a tenth of an inch of precipitation this week. This week was a continuation of very dry conditions in western Texas, western Oklahoma, and eastern New Mexico, which have lasted for over three months; October 2017 was the last month when appreciable precipitation fell.

"In Texas, the Amarillo International Airport has had 109 consecutive days with no measurable precipitation as of January 30, edging out January 3, 1957, whose dry run lasted 75 consecutive days. Canyon went 102 days without measurable rain through January 16, which was the second longest dry streak behind the 104 days ending on January 15, 1956. Guymon, Oklahoma, has had only 0.04 inch of precipitation since October 11, 2017.

"As summarized by the National Drought Mitigation Center, drought has slowed the growth of winter wheat and other cool-season forages, and pasture conditions were generally poor and deteriorating, in Oklahoma. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, 93% of Oklahoma's topsoil moisture was rated short or very short of moisture (dry to very dry); 49% of the pastures and rangeland, and 79% of the winter wheat crop, were rated in poor to very poor condition. These are increases from 31% and 42%, respectively, compared to a month ago. Sixty-eight percent of the rye crop, 65% of oats, and 55% of the canola crop were rated in poor to very poor condition. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, several large wildfires were burning across Oklahoma and Texas, and the governor of Oklahoma has issued a burn ban for the western half of the state.

"D1-D2 expanded in Kansas, where wells were drying up, creeks and springs were going dry, and ponds were near 2012 drought levels, especially in the central part of the state. According to end-of-January USDA reports, 79% of the topsoil in Kansas was rated short to very short of moisture (dry to very dry) and 44% of the winter wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition."

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

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

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