‘New Dust Bowl’ or “Terrible Teens” drought taking a toll | TSLN.com

‘New Dust Bowl’ or “Terrible Teens” drought taking a toll

Brad Rippey
Meteorologist, USDA Office of the Chief Economist

During the four-week period ending April 29, 2014, contiguous U.S. drought coverage remained virtually unchanged (up 0.06 percentage point) at 38.43 percent. Nevertheless, drought coverage is at its highest point since October 8, 2013, and up 7.48 percentage points from the beginning of the year.

In April, devastatingly dry, dusty, windy conditions on the southern Great Plains fueled concerns of a "New Dust Bowl." The "Terrible Teens" drought, which for many parts of the southern Great Plains began in the fall of 2010 and has lasted for more than 3½ years, continued to take a severe toll on rangeland, pastures, and winter wheat. During the four weeks ending April 1, coverage of extreme drought (D3) climbed from 14 to 25 percent in Kansas, while extreme to exceptional drought (D3/D4) coverage rose from 24 to 39 percent in Oklahoma; 27 to 38 percent in Texas; and 25 to 33 percent in New Mexico.

A mid-April cold snap added "freeze insult" to drought-injured wheat on the southern Great Plains. Another cold wave at month's end may have caused additional harm to the crop in beleaguered southern wheat production areas. By April 27, one-third (33 percent) of the U.S. winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition, identical to the end-of-April rating for last year's drought-affected crop. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the wheat was rated very poor to poor in Oklahoma and Texas, while roughly one-third of the crop was rated very poor to poor in Kansas (37 percent) and Colorado (33 percent). The portion of the winter wheat production area in drought has been hovering just above the 50-percent mark in recent weeks and stood at 53 percent on April 29. This value is very similar to what was noted a year ago, on April 30, 2013, when 54 percent of the wheat crop was in drought. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of the winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition on April 29, 2014, in several states, including South Dakota (65 percent good to excellent), Montana (64 percent), Arkansas (63 percent), Illinois (62 percent), and Indiana (62 percent).

Periodic April storms provided temporary relief to drought-stricken areas from California into the Southwest. April precipitation briefly eased irrigation requirements and aided rain-fed rangeland, pastures, and crops across the nation's southwestern quadrant, but water-supply prospects for the summer remained bleak. California's coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3/D4) rose from 69 to 77 percent during the four weeks ending April 29, while Nevada's coverage climbed from 34 to 39 percent.

With the agricultural focus turning toward spring planting – nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of the intended U.S corn acreage was planted by April 27 – it is worth noting that drought lingers in portions of the western Corn Belt. By April 29, about one-quarter (26 percent) of the U.S. corn production area was in drought, down 5 percentage points from four weeks ago. Similarly, 19 percent of the soybean production area was in drought on April 29, down 5 points from April 1.