Storms bring some relief to pastures, wheat

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On National Public Radio Monday evening, a story about the recent snowstorms followed Kansas rancher Kirk Sours, whose ranch near Tonganoxie received more than two feet of snow over the past two weeks. Sours is midway through calving 450 cows. He’s laying down bedding in calving pastures, tending calves in the snow and cold and chopping ice from his ponds with an ax. But he isn’t complaining. "It makes for a little harder work,” he says, “but in scope of the drought, man, we're just almost giddy about having this snow."

Sours isn’t alone in being happy to see precipitation, which has brought at least short-term relief to much of the Central and Southern Plains, Midwest and parts of the Southeast over the past two weeks.

According to the latest Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin from the USDA and U.S. Department of Commerce, several towns across the country recorded daily record snowfall last week. Amarillo, Texas received 19 inches, Kansas City received 8.4 inches and Waterloo, Iowa received 10.4 inches. Wichita, Kansas set a monthly record for snowfall in February, with two storms leaving a total of 21.2 inches. Parts of Northern Florida and neighboring states received four inches of rain last week.

Most of the western half of the country remains severely dry, however. Even in Western Kansas, which received the benefit of the February storms, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the area remains under extreme to exceptional drought. Quoted in the NPR story, Kansas State University agronomist

Jim Shroyer says the snow will help, but Western Kansas would need eight feet of snow to bring soil moisture back to normal.

The snow should, however, provide enough topsoil moisture to benefit winter wheat crops coming out of dormancy this spring. A map within the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin overlays last week’s precipitation events with winter-wheat growing areas, and shows rain or snow affecting many key growing areas in the Southern and Central Plains.

Current forecasts indicate a new storm forming in the West later this week and moving across the country over the weekend and into the first part of next week. Early indications suggest the front could bring widespread precipitation to much of the eastern half of the country.

We’ll hope this becomes a pattern of weekly weather events that last through the spring across Cattle Country. As Kirk Sours says in the NPR story as he anticipates muddy conditions once the snow melts:  “I have learned one thing over the last 35 years of doing this; that you don't cuss the mud. I'd much rather have mud than dust."

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