Moisture, cooler temps ease drought stress
“The Plains states are the focal point of the drought in the U.S.,” said National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) Climatologist Brian Fuchs. “We have seen some in the western U.S, but from the eastern part of Iowa and Missouri moving east, we aren’t seeing as much dryness as we had several months ago.”
In an April 24 webinar presented by NDMC, Fuchs noted, “We have seen some improvement and went below 50 percent of the country being in drought last week.”
Of the improvement seen, he noted that most of it has been in the last six to eight weeks, he added, and recent snows and rain have begun to begin to ease stress.
“The intensity of the drought has stared to improve,” commented Fuchs, “but there are some long term issues with drought, starting with dryness in 2010.”
The High Plains region, of which Wyoming is a part of, is still a concern, with 86 percent of the region in drought. However, improvements have also been seen.
“Just three months ago, about 74 percent of the region was in D4 drought, and that has dropped to just over seven percent,” said Fuchs.
D4 drought is exceptional and the most extreme on the NDMC’s scale.
In Wyoming specifically, there is no occurrence of D4 drought, but 30.35 percent of the sate is in D3, or extreme, drought conditions.
“Rain and snow has led to some improvement and is some of the most precipitation we have seen in the last year,” said Fuchs.
Though Fuchs noted that things were looking dire three months ago, with water deficits present, some areas of the country have progressed to above normal precipitation.
“We are still seeing two to four inches below normal precipitation in the western Dakotas, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma,” he explained.
While lack of soil moisture recharge was a concern moving into this year, notable improvements have also been seen through the country.
“We were very worried about what would happen in the event that heat kicked in again early at the start of the spring season,” said Fuchs. “It would have put us in a bad situation.”
Though soil moisture levels have improved, he noted that there is room and need for further improvements.
Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains has also improved.
“We are looking at about 80 percent of normal snowpack,” Fuchs commented. “We even have areas of well-above normal in Wyoming.”
“Not only does snowpack help with runoff, but it sends more water into the river basins of the Plains states as they continue to accumulate water,” he added.
As a contributing factor in decreasing the drought, temperature has played a huge role.
“We are seeing temperatures running a degree or two below normal,” said Fuchs. “In the northern Dakotas, we are seeing four, six and even eight degrees below normal temperatures.”
Lower temperatures help with moisture loss by helping to keep snow around longer.
“We have snow sticking around longer and slower melt-outs,” he noted, particularly mentioning that the month of April has been unseasonably cool. “A lot of people are waiting for spring to arrive.”
Not only are temperatures cooler than the long-term average, they are significantly below those temperatures seen last year.
“In March, we also saw temperatures at three to six degrees below normal,” explained Fuchs. “Last March, we were running temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees above normal. That means we have a 25 to 30 degree difference in temperatures from last March to this March – and that is showing with a lack of green-up and growth in pastures.”
While growth is slower this year, Fuchs told producers to realize this provides opportunity for increased recovery of drought-stricken landscapes.
In the coming week, Fuchs noted that there are opportunities for more precipitation in the next five days, and the temperatures will continue to trend cooler.
“We will continue to see temperatures at three to six degrees below normal,” he noted. “The cool pattern and slow onset of spring will continue over the next week and into the eight to 14 day outlook.”
“The recent patterns have brought some relief from the drought. How long that will continue is up in the air,” Fuchs added. “By no means is the drought over, but we are seeing conditions improve.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.