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The Droughts Over, Right?
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The last part of April and the beginning of May certainly brought a change in the weather pattern. An unsettled weather pattern with heavy rains, hail, strong winds and even tornados brought much needed moisture and as this is written the end of this week is looking unsettled. As is common with this pattern, while most all areas received rain, totals have ranged from around an inch or less to close to ten inches for some. On average it appears most of the area two to three inches or more. This helps but the area is still under the average for the year. So where does that put us regarding the drought?
• As of May 5, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed this immediate area to all be in moderate drought so some of the area improved from the severe category. West of here a small area improved all the way to just abnormally dry and a fair swath moved from extreme to severe. Overall conditions have improved and at least a portion of the area should improve a category based on the weather since May 5.
• Just in case you are wondering why the areas with heavy rainfall didn’t improve more, it helps to remember how the drought monitoring system works. Without going into details it uses a variety of factors – the Palmer Drought Index, a soil moisture model, USGS streamflow, and the Standardized Precipitation Index.  
• They define moderate drought as the following, “Some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; voluntary water-use restrictions requested.” A severe drought is defined as, “Crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed.”
• What this means in English is if an area was rated as severe and then improves to moderate, plants in the ground have suffered loss but the loss may be lessened if the precipitation came in time. That is evident here. The wheat crop suffered damage with the dry winter, and temperatures, but these rains helped “lessen” that damage compared to a continued lack of moisture.
• For the drought monitor status to continue to improve, the area will need above average rainfall. For the area to stay “improved” the area needs above average precipitation for an extended period. Soils need enough moisture that the top- and sub- soil can recharge. Areas that received the two plus inches in a short time and several times saw at least some topsoil recharge.
• What does this means for crops? Wheat yields were helped with these rains. Yield potential was hurt by fall/winter weather but wheat should be able to realize much of the yield potential it has left. Crops such as corn, sorghum, and soybeans in most of the area know have adequate rain to get off to a good start.