Drought relief for a few, rain in the forecast

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Farmers and ranchers in some areas are seeing relief from America’s two-year drought. But those pockets of relief are the exception rather than the rule.

In the eastern Corn Belt, officials are seeing signs the drought is loosening its grip. Indiana associate state climatologist Ken Sheeringa, Purdue University, told the Pharos Tribune heavy rains during January produced significant improvements.

Sheeringa said conditions began to slowly improve in August. Now, with warm weather and an influx of snow and rain, Sheeringa said the soils are ready for the next planting period.

The western Corn Belt and parts of the Great Plains may see some relief later this week as rains are expected.

"By the weekend there is some fairly meaningful precipitation for the dry western areas of the Plains hard red winter wheat area and heavier precipitation in the eastern areas," said John Dee, a meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.

Dee said the driest areas of the Plains could receive from 0.20 to 0.60 inch of moisture and the eastern Plains could receive from 0.50 inch to 1.00 inch. "There also will be up to an inch in the dry area of the northwest Midwest," he said.

Texas, however, continues to be hit hard by drought conditions, and is on track to experience the second-worst drought on record, the state climatologist said Tuesday.

John Nielsen-Gammon told the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees that most of the state is still in extreme drought and the forecast tilts toward drier-than-normal conditions through the spring. For some parts of the state, the current drought may end up being the worst ever recorded.

"No corner of the state has been spared dry conditions, the drought persists at historic levels," he said. "In summary, 2011 was about as bad as it gets for agriculture, but it is these multi-year droughts that strain water supplies and there is still a good chance this will end up being the drought of record for most of the state."

Texas has only received 68 percent of its normal rainfall, and reservoirs are at their lowest levels since 1990, Nielsen-Gammon said. He said high temperatures due to climate change have exacerbated the drought.

"The state temperature has increased on average by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and so that impacts drought through evaporation and loss of water once it reaches the ground," he said.


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