Dry weather dominated much of the country, favoring summer crop harvesting and winter wheat planting. However, topsoil moisture shortages hampered wheat emergence and establishment in a variety of regions, including portions of the Plains, lower Midwest, and interior Northwest.
Meanwhile, significant short-term drought continued to grip the South, primarily from the southeastern Great Plains to the Mississippi Delta. In addition to concerns about recently planted winter wheat, Southern drought issues included stress on pastures and late-maturing summer crops; an elevated risk of wildfires; and diminishing surface-water supplies. In stark contrast, dry weather in South Carolina and environs favored flood-recovery efforts.
In the Northeast, scattered rain and snow showers in the vicinity of Lakes Erie and Ontario prevented significant expansion of abnormal dryness (D0). Closer to the Atlantic Coast, dry weather kept moderate drought (D1) intact from northern New Jersey to southern Maine.
Although much of the Southeast remained free of drought, there was a slight expansion of D0 and D1 in central and southern Georgia. Through Oct. 20, year-to-date rainfall in Macon, Georgia, totaled 30.20 inches (81% of normal). In contrast, D0 was trimmed slightly in southern Florida, supported by ongoing showers and an assessment of the 2015 wet season.
A sharp, 3- to 4-month drought in areas in the Mid-South has brought significant impacts to a broad area stretching from southern Oklahoma and central and eastern Texas to the Mississippi Delta. Due to the drought, a variety of burn bans are in effect.
By Oct. 18, USDA reported topsoil moisture 89% very short to short in Arkansas, along with 85% in Louisiana, and 83% in Mississippi. On the same date, pastures rated very poor included 49% in Arkansas, 46% in Louisiana and Texas, and 43% in Mississippi. Some producers were opting to await rain before planting winter wheat; in Arkansas, for example, wheat was 22% planted by October 18, compared to the 5-year average of 27%.
Mostly dry weather supported a rapid expansion of D0 and D1 in the Midwest especially from Missouri to Michigan and Ohio, and across the upper Midwest. By Oct. 18, topsoil moisture stood at 68% very short to short in Missouri, along with 53% in Indiana, 52% in Illinois, and 46% in Ohio.
Sub-state readings indicated more significant dryness in several areas. Among them was the western division of Illinois—bordered by southeastern Iowa and northeastern Missouri—which reported topsoil moisture 86% very short to short, and the east-central division of Missouri (91% very short to short).
Although the short-term Midwestern dryness remained favorable for fieldwork, recently planted winter wheat was in need of rain to ensure even emergence and proper crop establishment.
Mostly minor expansion of D0 and D1 was noted across the northern and central Plains. Conditions were not as dry as those being experienced farther south, but some impact on winter grain emergence has been reported. In Colorado, most (95%) of the winter wheat had been planted by Oct. 18, but emergence (60%) lagged the 5-year average by 12 percentage points. On the same date, topsoil moisture was 59% very short to short in Kansas and 50% very short to short in Colorado.
Precipitation began to overspread central and southern California on Oct.15 and eventually reached into many other areas of the western U.S. However, extremely dry conditions persisted in much of Oregon and Washington, hampering winter crop establishment. By Oct. 18, winter wheat emergence was at least 10 percentage points behind the 5-year average pace in Oregon (18% emerged) and Washington (62%). California led the nation with both topsoil and subsoil moisture rated 90% very short to short.
Approximately two-thirds of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor in Oregon (67%) and California (65%). Finally, significant water-supply shortages—owing to the multi-year drought—were noted in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico. In the Northwest, statewide reservoir storage was also below average in Oregon, and Washington.
During the drought-monitoring period, precipitation became heavy enough to result in some very minor improvements in the long-term drought depiction, primarily in Arizona and Nevada. Further refinements may be needed next week as assessments continue, especially since the storm was still in progress on October 20.
Source: Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture/ The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.