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Svoboda: Drought lingers across US

“I was hoping to bring better news,” commented National Drought Mitigation Center Climatologist Mark Svoboda in a March 27 webinar on the drought. “We still have a large area of extreme to exceptional drought in the Front Range and High Plains in Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado.”

Despite storm activity in the last four to six weeks, Svoboda marked lingering drought across the country, with over 50 percent of the country in drought.

Drought extent

“Drought coverage is down from last fall, and most of the decrease is in the Eastern Corn Belt,” said Svoboda. 

The Eastern Corn Belt last year was struck by D3 and D4 droughts, and the climatologist noted significant improvement, saying, “Storms have continued to move across the region, but in the Central and Northern Plains, we have missed out on a lot of that precipitation.”

“If we compare the currently weekly map for the High Plains Region, we are showing 55 percent of the region is in extreme drought,” he continued. 

At the end of September, the start of the soil recharge season, Svoboda showed approximately 61 percent of the area in drought, so slight improvements have been seen.

“Drought has only come down seven percent, from about 99 percent to 91 percent of the country,” he added.

Moisture deficits

“We know that we have large deficits to overcome,” said Svoboda. “We’re pretty starved for moisture.”

Fall and winter, he explained are the critical recharge period. While the perception shows that improvements have been seen, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“We still see a lot of the country has seen precipitation of 50 percent of normal or less,” Svoboda explained. “We haven’t had the rainfall since Oct. 1 to warrant widespread improvement.”

He added that lack of snow in the Rockies for the second consecutive year has also provided a challenge.

“Most of the improvement has been seen in the Gulf Coast, Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys, northern Montana and North Dakota,” he noted. “In the top 3.5 feet of topsoil, we haven’t seen the six to eight feet of snow we need to make up the six to eight inches of moisture deficit.”

Crop impacts

Potential impacts for crop deficits are also present, according to Svoboda.

Mentioning that last year was difficult for corn and bean producers, Svoboda said, “The big one this year is going to be winter wheat.”

“A lot of folks didn’t bother to plant winter wheat this year,” he added. “Fifty-six percent of the nation’s winter wheat crop is under the drought areas.”

When it comes to winter wheat, he noted that the crop is suffering.

For cattle, however, things don’t look too much better. 

“We still have 62 percent of the cattle industry in drought,” he said. “We are going into year two, and we are starting year three in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, for the drought.”

As a result, pastures have also suffered and were not recharged because of the dry winter.

More than 50 percent of the country’s forage is also in drought – showing improvement from last year.

“Perhaps there will be areas that will recover,” he said. “We still don’t know that they will have a lot of excess forage to send out, but we have to start recovery somewhere.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..