Winter Has Arrived in the U.S. Heartland ... But Drought Remains

Cold, dry weather prevailed nearly nationwide, according to the latest drought monitor from the USDA. On the Plains, the combination of cold weather and soil moisture shortages maintained significant stress on rangeland, pastures, and winter wheat.  

Weekly temperatures averaged at least 10°F below normal nationwide, except in the desert southwest and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. 

Add it up and a large section of the central U.S. remains gripped by severe to exceptional drought, shown by the orange and red on the map below. Many other regions remain abnormally dry, shown by yellow. 

On the southern Plains, many pasture lands remain bone dry. Winter wheat remains stressed.  

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma and Texas were tied for the regional “lead” on November 20, with topsoil moisture rated 67% very short to short. On the same date, very poor to poor ratings were observed in Texas for 58% of the rangeland and pastures, 52% of the oats and 49% of the winter wheat. Similarly in Oklahoma, 41% of the winter wheat and 75% of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor.  

Things are generally better in the Midwest. Light snow broadly fell across the Midwest in mid November, followed by cold, mostly dry weather. Record-setting snowfall totals for November 15 included 6.6 inches in Alpena, Michigan, 3.5 inches in Waterloo, Iowa and 2.8 inches in Madison, Wisconsin. Heavier snow lingered downwind of the Great Lakes.  

On the Ohio River, runoff from the remnants of Hurricane Nicole reached Cairo, Illinois, where the peak gauge reading of 18.62 feet on November 18 was nearly 14 feet higher than last month’s low-water mark. At that time, the Ohio River at Cairo had not been so low since November 1901. 

On the High Plains, snow and ice remain on the ground in parts of Montana and the Dakotas. The freezing and frozen precipitation provided beneficial moisture for rangeland, pastures and winter grains. Still, drought concerns persisted, especially in drier areas across the southern half of the region.

On November 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted topsoil moisture ranging from 63% very short to short in North Dakota to 87% in Nebraska. On the same date, at least 40% of the winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition in Colorado (52%), Kansas (40%) and Nebraska (40%). Drought stress on vegetation was aggravated by very cold weather, which led to several record lows. In Kansas, for example, record-setting lows for November 19 plunged to 8°F in Garden City and 11°F in Medicine Lodge. 

Precipitation is on the way for some – but not all – areas. 

Across much of the country, milder weather will replace previously cold conditions. By Thanksgiving Day (today), a storm system will begin to take shape across the south-central U.S. Late in the week, portions of the southern Plains should receive much-needed precipitation, including possible wet snow.  

The NWS 6 to 10-day outlook for November 28 to December 2 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures across the northern Plains and much of the West, while warmer-than-normal weather will prevail east of a line from the southern Rockies to Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, near or below-normal precipitation in much of the southern and eastern U.S. should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions from the Pacific coast to the northern half of the Plains, Midwest and mid-South. 

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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