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Rain, El Nino, and the Drought
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First Happy Fathers’ Day to all the dads reading this. While this sounds like a broken record, the rains certainly helped but didn’t end the drought. The latest drought monitor map (reflects conditions through June 10) shows some improvement but the area is still in the Sever to Extreme categories. This is for two reasons. First, the area is still far behind the average yearly total for this date. Two, the drought monitor reflects soil moisture conditions. While this rain didn’t help area wheat much, it was great for summer row and feed crops. This is also a boost for irrigators since every inch that doesn’t have to be pumped saves money. The moderate temperatures and higher humidities are also helping plant growth and decreasing soil moisture loss.  
Many comments go something like this; “It sure would be great if we could space this out over the summer.”  Well, not really. In order to recharge top soil, subsoil, and hopefully the water table, rains like the area experienced last Monday are what are needed. Light rains simply won’t penetrate very far into the soil. While most of the area has adequate topsoil moisture now, warm temperatures and rapidly growing crops can deplete that fairly quickly and there isn’t moisture beneath to help. Timely moderate rains can help keep crops progressing (and they are in great condition compared to last year) but gully washers are needed for recharge. Also take a moment to look at area farm ponds (especially as you move north) and notice they are much fuller and some even completely full. Only heavy rains can produce runoff and fill ponds, lakes, and streams. So what has changed our weather pattern?
Climatologists and NOAA have found indications that an El Niño is present and building. They think it will last at least through this winter. Briefly, an El Niño is a warming of the Pacific Ocean of the coast of South America. For our area it normally translates into warmer, wetter winters and overall a slightly to well above normal precipitation pattern. If the El Niño is present and typical, it might be just what is needed to break the drought more than temporarily. Time will tell. For now NOAA is forecasting an equal chance for above or below normal temperatures and precipitation over the next 60 to 90 days.
This precipitation does present an opportunity for double-cropping dryland grain sorghum, soybeans, or feed crops after winter wheat depending upon herbicide history. With the short wheat, residue management should be easier and it’s advisable to plant no-till or at least minimize tillage to conserve soil moisture. Of course there is the risk of the hot, dry weather pattern returning but also the opportunity to take advantage of moisture while we have it.