Snow helps, but can’t pull Plains from drought

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Drought MonitorThe Drought Monitor map, released on Feb. 28, 2013. Two wet winter storm systems walloped the Plains over the past week, but even the late-winter moisture won’t be enough to pull many key agricultural states out of the drought. However, it was able to momentarily pause the drought’s progression.

Thursday’s Drought Monitor report told it all – 54 percent of the contiguous United States is in moderate or worse drought, two percentage points below last week’s report.

The powerful winter storm that swept through the country last week not only momentarily relieved the nation’s drought, but it also made a significant dent in the drought along the nation’s midsection:

  • Nebraska: The biggest story with the Cornhusker State was not a massive shift in drought conditions. Last week 77.47 percent of the state was reported in exceptional drought, and with the snow’s help, it fell to 76.94 percent this week. However, this week’s report was also the first time it has dropped below 77 percent since September 2012.
  • Kansas: The Sunflower State, on the other hand, did see a dramatic improvement in drought conditions. Extreme or worse drought conditions dropped from 75.19 percent last week to 69.75 percent this week. Like Nebraska, the state of Kansas hasn’t reported less than 70 percent of the state in these levels of drought since July 2012.
  • Oklahoma: There’s no question that the Sooner State saw the biggest improvement thanks to the storms. Last week, 42 percent of the state was considered in exceptional drought. This week that number has dropped to 12 percent. The few areas that remain in exceptional drought are confined to the panhandle and the southwest corner.

The drought is still persistent however, and dominates 17 states across the nation, including most of the Corn Belt. See how your state is doing here.

As Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, explained in an interview with The Kansas City Star, several inches of snow will return to the snow as the snow melts. Svoboda compares soil to a sponge, demonstrating what short-term relief does for the land.

“We are saturating the top part of the sponge,” Svoboda said. “The bottom part is dry. I think this helps in the short-term.”

With winter coming to an end in just a few weeks, attention shifts to the hope of spring showers. The spring outlook for many Plains states shows a weather toss-up.

Dan Hawblitzel, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, sees a wetter-than-normal spring for the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley, but drier-than-normal conditions for the Southwest and the Rockies. For the Plains, Hawblitzel says that “right now it could go either way.”

Read more from The Kansas City Star here.

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