Missouri bucks trend as drought levels out nationally
After months of dry weather patterns and blistering sun, the drought that has gripped much of the nation's midsection since June is showing signs of leveling off, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor. A rare piece of good news in the wake of weeks of worsening conditions, the area experiencing at least moderate drought fell slightly to 51.7 percent of the country as of Tuesday.
But much to the dismay of area farmers and ranchers, cooler and moister conditions were not enough to change Missouri's fortunes. Bucking the national trend, the percentage of the state experiencing exceptional drought, the worst possible drought conditions, nearly tripled to a season-high 35.5 percent.
For the first time, the report also showed those exceptional conditions creeping into central Missouri, where much of the state's corn and soybean cash crops have already been battered by summer heat and lack of rain. In weeks prior, that distinction had been limited to only extreme southern portions of the state in the Bootheel and the southwest.
According to the monitor, exceptional or D4 drought is characterized by "Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; exceptional fire risk; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells, creating water emergencies."
The news that conditions had worsened came even after Missouri saw a week of high temperatures in the low-to-mid-80s and several showers, though they were not widespread. Though the fates of corn and soybeans are largely set, farmers are still hoping continued and increased moisture might revive long-dormant grazing pastures and relieve some of the pressure of hay and feed reserves.
"Even with the cooler weather, a lot of the areas are still staying dry," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center. "The cooler weather itself lessens water demand and doesn’t replace much of the water that was lost."
For Missouri's neighbors the news was mixed. Illinois and Iowa saw marginal improvements with timely rain and cooler temperatures, while Kansas and Nebraska, already facing huge losses, saw conditions deteriorate further and faster than before. Two-thirds of the state of Kansas is now experiencing exceptional drought.
Shortly before the Drought Monitor report was released, the National Weather Service published its latest seasonal drought outlook for the period covering Aug. 16 to Nov. 30. The report predicted that much of the Southwest, northern Midwest, and Ohio Valley will likely see improving conditions over the coming months; but for Missouri and the Great Plains, the outlook is less promising, with drought conditions likely to persist well into the autumn.
Fuchs said that though the country as a whole may finally be poised to see improvement, it will take real rain, and Missouri will need to see a lot more than it has in recent weeks.
"Without any substantial rainfall, things are just going to continue to get worse until they can't get worse any more," Fuchs said.
The start of 2012 continues to be the warmest on record, a new posting from the National Weather Service office in St. Louis showed, with an average temperature of 64.2 degrees. Fuchs said the drought stands out in his mind for the speed with which it came on and intensified.
Forecasters with the NWS office expect temperatures to drop behind a cool front poised to move through the area Thursday. The front, which is producing a line of strong thunderstorms, should leave behind high temperatures near 80 degrees for the next few days. Highs are expected to remain under the 90-degree mark through the forecast period.