U.S. drought coverage down in August
Meteorologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture
During the four-week period ending on Sept. 2, 2014, contiguous U.S. drought coverage decreased slightly to 32.78 percent –a 1.16 percentage point drop. Coverage reached its year-to-date peak of 40.06 percent on May 6, but subsequent rainfall across portions of the nation’s mid-section and the Southwest has reduced drought’s overall imprint. During August, statewide decreases in drought coverage of 10 to 20 percentage points were noted in Kansas (from 92 to 72 percent in drought), New Mexico (from 82 to 70 percent), and Kentucky (from 19 to 7 percent).
Nevertheless, drought still covers a substantial portion of the central and southern Plains and the western U.S. On Sept. 2, the highest level of drought—D4, or exceptional drought—was noted in portions of California (58 percent), Nevada (12 percent), Texas (3 percent), and Oklahoma (2 percent). California also led the nation with 82 percent coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4).
In addition, California topped the U.S. with 75 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated in very poor to poor condition on August 31, according to USDA. Following California were Oregon (46 percent very poor to poor), New Mexico (45 percent), Texas (37 percent), Nevada (35 percent), Arizona (32 percent), and South Carolina (31 percent). According to the latest “agriculture in drought” statistics, based on the Sept. 2 Drought Monitor, 22 percent of the domestic hay acreage and 33 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in a drought-affected area.
In recent weeks, some moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) has developed in the Southeast. By Sept. 2, drought covered 25 percent of Georgia and 10 percent of Alabama. Four weeks earlier, on Aug. 5, those numbers had stood at 6 and 2 percent, respectively. End-of-August topsoil moisture was rated 65 percent very short to short in Georgia and 58 percent very short to short in Alabama.
With the return of widespread rainfall in August, overall conditions remained favorable for Midwestern corn and soybeans. Plenty of Midwestern moisture in June and August, along with a lack of summer heat stress, has been instrumental in maintaining nearly ideal growing conditions. By Aug. 31, nearly three-quarters of the U.S. corn (74 percent) and soybeans (72 percent) were rated in good to excellent condition. On Sept. 2, drought covered just 7 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 3 percent of the soybean area.
As U.S. summer crops mature, the agricultural focus will begin to shift toward winter wheat planting. By August 31, Oklahoma’s winter wheat seedbeds were 40 percent prepared for planting. Drought remains entrenched in several key winter wheat production areas across the central and southern Great Plains and the interior Northwest. On Sept. 2, 42 percent of the U.S. winter wheat production area was within a region experiencing drought.
Weather outlook: A cold front currently crossing the Midwest will remain the focus for showers and thunderstorms as it pushes southeast during the next few days. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 1 to 2 inches from the central Plains to New England. Similar amounts can be expected in the Southeast, except for 2- to 4-inch totals near the southern Atlantic Coast. Meanwhile, locally heavy rain will also occur in the Southwest, with showers occasionally spilling across the southern High Plains. Dry weather will prevail, however, from the Pacific Coast to the northern High Plains. Late-season heat across the South, East, and Midwest will be briefly suppressed in the wake of a cold front’s passage, but hot weather will rebuild during the weekend and early next week from the Northwest to the nation’s mid-section.