Watching Building Drought in Corn Belt

June 08, 2012; 1:46 PM
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Some parts of the nation are better off than others when compared to a week ago, in terms of dryness and drought. However, some areas, including part of the corn belt, have gotten worse.

The sun and lack of widespread rainfall are turning the landscape dry in parts of the central Plains and Midwest. While rain has come to portions of the northern Plains into Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, the dry trend farther south, if it continues, could impact crops in a large part of the corn belt this summer.

According to Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler, "Heat is the biggest concern when corn is in the pollinating phase, but both heat and abnormally dry conditions would be worse."

As the soil becomes drier, more of the sun's energy heats the land, which then heats the air.

Precipitation in much of the corn belt during the six weeks spanning May 1 to Jun 15 has ranged from 30 to 60 percent of normal.

"Because of the advance of the season due to early warmth, the pollination period is likely to be a few weeks earlier than average and slanted toward late June and early July" Mohler added.

According to Paul Pastelok, head meteorologist in AccuWeather.com's Long Range Forecasting Department, "The area from Iowa and Missouri, westward through much of Nebraska, Kansas and southern Minnesota is most likely to have long bouts of extreme heat during late June into July."

Pastelok stated that areas farther east over the Ohio Valley states will have some hot weather episodes, but it will be less intense and not as long-lasting during the first part of the summer.

Pastelok's crew expects a dip in the jet stream to bring periods of relatively cooler weather with opportunities for shower and thunderstorm activity over the Ohio Valley region.

During the second half of the summer, Pastelok is expecting more of a spread of moisture and moderation in the heat farther west into portions of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.

Persistent downpours in recent days have dented the drought in part of the Southeast and all but erased pockets of abnormally dry conditions in the Northeast. However, a large area of extreme to exceptional drought remains over the Florida Panhandle to central Georgia.

Parts of central and eastern Texas have also become more dry of late. Rainfall during the late winter and early spring broke the building drought in these areas. Some sporadic rain has been falling in recent days, but perhaps not enough to negate the high evaporation rates from intense June sunshine.

There has been no improvement in the drought status over the Southwest. Storms have been rolling in from the Pacific but have been taking a route too far to the north to tap subtropical moisture. Instead, the storms kick up wind, which dries the southwestern landscape out even more and raises greater concerns for the wildfire season.

The Pacific storm track has been bringing sufficient rainfall to much of the Northwest and northern Rockies, so far.

There is some hope that an annual pulse in humidity in the Southwest later this summer will lead to generous downpours. However, while this phenomenon, known to locals as the monsoon, will benefit some areas, it could leave California and neighboring states high and dry.

A front will roll slowly across the Plains and Midwest early next week with showers and thunderstorms. However, while that will bring sporadic heavy rainfall, the mere nature of the isolated downpours can still miss many needy areas.

A flow of tropical moisture northeastward from the Gulf of Mexico this weekend will roll over some needy areas of Florida, Alabama and Georgia. However, once again you have that random nature of downpours with the potential to avoid the driest locations.

This story was originally published on Thursday, June 7, 2012.

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