U.S. drought increases as conditions deteriorate in Southeast

U.S. drought increases as conditions deteriorate in Southeast

Autumn precipitation provided much of the Northeast with some drought relief.

During the four-week period ending Nov. 1, 2016, contiguous U.S. drought (D1 to D4) coverage increased sharply to 26.80% — up 7.3%. The U.S. Drought Monitor for November also reported that other subsets of drought coverage increased between Oct. 4 and Nov. 1: exceptional drought (D4) increased from 1.17% to 1.70%, extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) increased from 3.14% to 4.86% and severe to exceptional drought (D2 to D4) increased from 8.37% to 10.95%.

“The increases in drought coverage have been driven by rapidly worsening conditions in the Southeast. Measurable rain has not fallen in parts of Alabama and Mississippi since mid-September, accompanied by chronically and unusually high temperatures,” U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey said.

By Oct. 30, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service rated at least one-half of the pastures in very poor to poor condition in Tennessee (65%), Georgia (63%) and Alabama (52%).  USDA also indicated that topsoil moisture was at least three-quarters very short to short in Mississippi (83%), Georgia (80%), Louisiana (79%), Tennessee (78%) and Alabama (76%). 

Due to dryness, winter wheat planting is substantially behind schedule in several southeastern states, including Alabama — 15% planted on Oct. 30 versus the five-year average of 30% — and Louisiana — 9% planted versus the average of 27%.

Exceptional drought (D4) has developed across parts of the Southeast in recent weeks and currently covers 15% of Alabama, 14% of Georgia and 5% of Tennessee.  Extreme drought (D3) or worse is affecting 52% of Alabama and just under 50% of Georgia.  Other southeastern states reporting D3 or worse are Mississippi (27%), Tennessee (15%), South Carolina (12%) and North Carolina (5%).

“The southeastern drought has lasted long enough to begin affecting water supplies,” Rippey noted.

In northern Georgia, the surface elevation of Lake Lanier dipped to 1,062.3 ft. in early November — 8.7 ft. below full pool and 6.7 ft. below a year ago. Lake Lanier’s lowest level on record occurred in December 2007, when the surface elevation dipped to 1,050.8 ft.

Meanwhile, the report showed that autumn precipitation has provided much of the Northeast with some drought relief.  Northeastern regional drought coverage peaked at 53% — the highest since 2002 — on Oct. 18 but has fallen 2% in the last two weeks. Northeastern extreme drought (D3) coverage fell to 1.37% by Nov. 1, down from an autumn peak of 6.68%. However, northeastern pastures have been slow to recover, with 82% rated very poor to poor in Maine on Oct. 30, along with 55% in Massachusetts, 45% in New Hampshire and 44% in Vermont.

Although 58% of the U.S. winter wheat crop was rated good to excellent on Oct. 30, there were some drought-related issues (e.g., uneven emergence, poor establishment) on the central and southern High Plains. By the first of November, 15% of the U.S. winter wheat production area was in drought, up from an early-autumn low of 8%. In Texas, 17% of the winter wheat was rated very poor to poor on Oct. 30, according to USDA.

On Nov. 1, USDA reported that drought was affecting 25% of the U.S. cattle inventory, up from 14% in early autumn.  Similarly, 27% of the nation’s hay area was in drought, up from 14% as recently as mid-September.

In the last four weeks, the portion of the U.S. corn and soybean production areas in drought has increased — from 2% to 9% for corn and from 3% to 15% for soybeans.

“Most of the change has been driven by the escalating southeastern drought. However, with the exception of late-planted soybeans, crops were mostly mature when conditions deteriorated,” Rippey said. “Still, many southeastern row crops had been hurt by an earlier round of heat and drought during the summer.”

Exceptionally wet weather covered the northwestern half of the western U.S. during October. As a result, nearly all drought was eradicated from the Northwest, except for some lingering, long-term water supply issues, the report noted. Some of the improvement reached northern California, helping statewide drought coverage to dip to 75% by Nov. 1, down from 84% a month ago. However, extreme to exceptional drought remains deeply entrenched across 43% of California, owing to massive, five-year precipitation deficits and related impacts across central and southern portions of the state.

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