The level of drought in the continental United States has reached a nearly two-year low, according to last week's U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Tuesday, about 30.5 percent of the lower 48 states was in moderate drought or worse, the smallest area since Dec. 27, 2011. Recent rains in the Southwest and the South led to improvements in Arizona, Utah and Colorado and from Texas to Tennessee, resulting in a 1.88-percentage-point drop in the overall drought level.
This is good news for winter wheat growers. Farmers faced an uneasy period last fall when low rainfall caused them to delay the planting period to avoid poor germination of wheat seed.
"This year, planting has been right on par with normal," said Brad Rippey, an agricultural meteorologist with the Agriculture Department and one of the authors of the weekly Drought Monitor.
As of Nov. 24, 93 percent of winter wheat had emerged from seed, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, 5 percentage points more than last year.
Hay-growing and cattle-raising areas in drought also fell slightly, by 1 percentage point from last week. Sixty-two percent of the wheat crop is in good to excellent condition, up from about 33 percent this time last year (ClimateWire, Nov. 26, 2012).
Nevertheless, drought is still an issue in the southern High Plains, where a pocket of exceptional drought remains in northern Texas, on the Oklahoma border near Wichita Falls.
Marginal improvements in the Southwest are not likely to be long-lasting, said Rippey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual winter outlook last month, predicting no respite from ongoing drought (ClimateWire, Nov. 22).
The historical average drought rate for the contiguous United States is 20 percent, a level the country has exceeded for the last three years. In the summer of 2012, the drought across the center of the country shrank corn yields and drove the price of the crop above $8 per bushel, a historic high.
The country probably won't come back to the 20 percent average anytime soon, said Rippey.
"In the Southwest, there probably won't be much additional recovery," he said.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.E&E Publishing is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy issues. Click here to start a free trial to E&E's information services.
Thunderstorms have the potential to impact Independence Day fireworks and outings in parts of the central and eastern United States, while dry weather will raise fire safety concerns in the West.
Batches of rain and thunderstorms will swing through Wales and England on Wednesday, continuing the threat for flash flooding and localised travel delays.
A second landslide has stalled rescue efforts following a deadly landslide in China over the weekend.
Audrey, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the month of June, killed at least 390 people in the southern United States and caused an estimated $150 million in damage.
Here are five easy, survival expert-approved ways to prepare a campfire without a lighter or match.
April-like temperatures and heavy rain last week have been replaced by uncomfortable heat and humidity across Beijing and northeastern China this week.
Areas across Arizona are so hot that cactus are dying, food is baking and plastic is melting.
A slow-moving storm system will unleash several days of dangerous weather across Germany this week.