With planting season about 90 days away, a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday shows huge swaths of drought throughout most of the continuous United States.
From California eastward all along the southwestern, southern and southeastern United States to Florida and up the east coast all the way to Maine there are large areas of drought and severe drought, as well as large areas that are abnormally dry, according to the Drought Monitor.
From Texas all the way up the nation’s breadbasket of Kansas and Colorado and in the Corn Belt all the way up through the Dakotas and into Montana on the border with Canada, there are large areas of drought and severe drought.
While most of Iowa and all of Nebraska are listed as abnormally dry, including several Quad-City region counties in western Illinois, there are pockets of drought in southern Illinois.
“There are some spots south of Springfield where the wells are dry and they’re having to haul in water,” said Taylor Ridge, Illinois, farmer Tom Mueller.
“The drought in the Dakotas has not stopped,” Mueller added. It was that drought that sent soybean prices above $10 a bushel over the summer, he said.
“The Dakotas have not gotten any extra rainfall to get the ground recharged,” Mueller said. Northeast Montana also has pockets of moderate to severe drought.
Virgil Schmitt, an agronomist with the Iowa State University Extension in Muscatine, said there is concern about the dry conditions particularly in the southeast portion of the U.S.
“Midwest droughts tend to stare in the southeast,” Schmitt said. “I don’t know if anyone has ever figured out why, but the drought we’ve had have all started in the southeast.”
Of particular concern to Schmitt is the Florida panhandle which is experiencing severe drought. “And we’ve got moderate drought through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas,” he added.
In checking the three-month outlook issued Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in Iowa and most of the Midwest and upper Mississippi Valley and west to the Dakotas, there is an equal chance of above or below normal temperatures.
Throughout the southern Unites States from California to Florida, there is an above-average chance for warmer than normal temperatures over the next three months, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
However, there is an above-average chance for precipitation in the Midwest and upper Midwest, and along the Canadian border from Washington over to the Great Lakes and areas beyond.
But, the chances of precipitation are below normal in the southern, southwestern and western states from Florida to California.
Schmitt said he is waiting to see where the Bermuda High will sit.
According to the National Weather Service, the Bermuda High is a semi-permanent, subtropical area of high pressure in the North Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America that migrates east and west with varying central pressure. When it is displaced westward, during the Northern Hemispheric summer and fall, the center is located in the western North Atlantic, near Bermuda. In the winter and early spring, it is primarily centered near the Azores in the eastern part of the North Atlantic.
“If it’s in the correct place that bodes well for us,” Schmitt said.
If something goes wrong in timing and placement then Iowa could be much dryer, he said.
In 1988, the Bermuda High was positioned in an area that caused most of the moisture to be pumped west of Iowa, Schmitt said. “Nebraska got all the rain and they had great crops and yields,” he said.
At this point in the year, the ground is frozen so the area is not losing moisture as fast as it might, said meteorologist Andy Ervin of the National Weather Service, Davenport.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do to get worse,” Ervin said. But the area can’t get better, either.
With the frost deep in the ground at this point, he said, any moisture will simply run off and not soak in.
“If we got three inches of rain tomorrow it would make a flood,” Ervin said. “We’re not going to improve soil moisture or subsoil moisture in the heart of winter.”
As the growing season approaches and the ground starts to thaw, moisture will leave the ground much more quickly, he said. “Droughts develop much faster in the warm season,” Ervin said.
Mueller said that most farmers in this area begin planting corn about April 12 or so and plant soybeans about the first or second week in May as the ground is a bit warmer.
A couple of good March rains would go far in making farmers feel good about the planting season, he said.
“Patience is the key,” Ervin said. “We’re not going to get a lot worse or a lot better until we hit the spring and get the frost out of the ground.”
Then it will be up for the right weather systems to develop and give the Midwest some steady soaking rains, he said.