During the four-week period ending May 31, 2016, contiguous U.S. drought coverage decreased 1.83% to 12.73%. Aside from lingering, long-term drought in parts of California and the Southwest, U.S. drought is mostly short term in nature and limited to an area centered on the southern Appalachians, according to Brad Rippey with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Since a weather pattern change in mid-April, Rippey said showery weather has covered much of the nation, including the Great Plains. By May 31, only 2% of the U.S. winter wheat production area was affected by drought, down from 19% on April 12. Based on USDA crop conditions reported as of May 29, U.S. winter wheat was rated 63% good to excellent and 8% very poor to poor. In the last two decades, late-May crop ratings for U.S. winter wheat were higher only in 1998, 1999 and 2010.
On May 31, drought was affecting just 10% of the U.S. cattle inventory, down from a recent maximum of 19% on April 12. Similarly, only 8% of the nation’s hay area was in drought, down from an April 12 peak of 12%. Not surprisingly, given the widespread spring rainfall, nearly two-thirds (66%) of U.S. rangeland and pastures were rated in good to excellent condition on May 29, Rippey reported. During the last 22 years, U.S. rangeland and pasture conditions were higher at the end of May only twice: in 1995 and 2010. All three — 1995, 2010 and 2016 — featured El Niño weather patterns in progress as the year began.
On May 31, the nation’s corn and soybean production areas remained mostly free of drought, with less than 1% drought coverage for both commodities. On May 29, the first U.S. corn condition report of the season indicated that the crop was rated 72% good to excellent and just 4% very poor to poor — on par with, but slightly below, the ratings at the same time last year (74% good to excellent and 3% very poor to poor). Early-season (late-May) corn condition ratings were also slightly higher in several other years, including 1998, 1999, 2007, 2010, the drought year of 2012 and 2014.
Rippey said northern California continued to experience incremental improvement from long-term drought, while southern California headed into a fifth year of drought. On May 31, nearly 84% of California remained in drought — down from 97% as recently as March 8. However, California’s coverage of exceptional drought (D4) has fallen from 46% to 21% since Oct. 1, 2015.
In the Southwest, drought covered 59% of Arizona and 37% of New Mexico on May 31. Farther east, short-term drought across the interior Southeast had expanded by May 31 to cover 47% of Tennessee, 28% of Georgia, 27% of Alabama, 11% of North Carolina and 10% of South Carolina.