Snow fails to relieve drought-plagued Plains

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Unfortunately for producers on the Plains, 2013 started exactly how 2012 ended – dry. Though minimal, conditions improved by less than 1 percentage point across the "Lower 48" thanks to a wet New Year’s Eve storm system that passed through the central Plains.

Even with the storm, however, 61 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate or worse drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor released on Thursday.

The worst drought conditions in the nation stretch from Texas (35 percent in extreme or worse drought) to South Dakota (63 percent in extreme or worse drought). Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota have been notorious for the past few months. In both Kansas and Nebraska, at least 50 percent of the states have remained in extreme to exceptional drought since early mid-July.

Click here to see how your state is doing.

The Midwest first escaped the vicious grips of the drought after the remnants of Hurricane Isaac drenched many of the region’s states in early September, but spotty precipitation has pushed some states back into drought. Moderate, severe and, in some cases, extreme drought have now returned to Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota.

Other areas in the Midwest, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, have seen more winter storms.  USA Today reports that though 15 inches of snow have been dumped on parts of the Midwest and East, it would take at least 8 feet of snow to return soil moisture to pre-drought levels in time for spring planting.

On the Plains, even more snow will be needed to quench the drought’s impact. David Pearson, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, told USA Today that the amount of snow needed to make up for the drought this winter would be astronomical. According to Pearson, it’s “an amount nobody would wish on their worst enemy.”

"It's so out of this world it wouldn't make much scientific sense (to guess). It would take a record-breaking snowfall for the season to get us back on track," Pearson said.

That would mean more upwards of 150 inches of snow, four times the average winter snowfall in Chicago. Read more USA Today.

For nervous producers questioning the impact the possibility of another long year of drought, Scott Irwin and Darrel Good from the University of Illinois point out that corn and soybean yields are “overwhelmingly” determined by summer weather conditions rather than late winter or early spring.

"Preseason moisture deficits can impact yield for the upcoming crop but this impact is typically quite small relative to the impact of precipitation and temperature during the reproductive periods for corn and soybeans, a fact that should be all too obvious after the "flash drought" of summer 2012,” Irwin and Good wrote in an article available here.

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