As drought intensified in the West and Great Plains and eased in the Northeast, the NDMC added 132 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in October. Texas topped the tally with 29 impacts, while Colorado and Massachusetts followed with 24 and 13 impacts, respectively. Drought in Texas and Colorado presented a number of agricultural challenges, while Colorado also dealt with immense wildfires. Water supplies were of concern in Massachusetts.
Delayed wheat planting in Texas, rare birds pay a visit
Drought intensified in west Texas and expanded into the eastern part of the state in October. Low soil moisture was a factor in delayed wheat planting in parts of western Texas as growers waited for rain to moisten the soil, according to AgriLife Today, while other growers planted and eagerly awaited rain to get the crop to germinate. Cattle were given supplemental feed in some areas as warm, dry weather left pastures without sufficient grazing for livestock. In Far West Texas, ranchers were planning to sell cattle toward the end of the month, per AgriLife Today. Conditions deteriorated through the month as patches of abnormal dryness and moderate drought appeared in the eastern half of the Lone Star State.
On South Padre Island, migratory birds rarely seen there were making an appearance, as reported in Harlingen Valley Morning Star. Drought and wildfires to the west may be driving birds into different migratory routes. Some of the rare visitors were hundreds and even more than a thousand miles outside of their normal ranges far to the west.
Record Colorado wildfires, crop and livestock challenges
Colorado drought intensified in October as massive wildfires blackened parts of the state. Colorado’s three largest wildfires to date, which all occurred in 2020, were the Cameron Peak Fire at more than 208,000 acres, the East Troublesome Fire at more than 193,000 acres, according to The Denver Post, and the Pine Gulch Fire at just over 139,000 acres, which was contained. Prior to 2020, Colorado’s largest fire was the Hayman Fire, which torched 137,760 acres in 2002.
Colorado had a statewide fire ban that expired on Sept. 30, but Gov. Jared Polis extended the ban another 30 days through Nov. 4 as wildfires continued to burn in the state, as reported in The Cortez Journal. Regardless of the statewide ban, officials for the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests recently announced that they would continue Stage 1 fire restrictions as the hunting season began.
Agricultural endeavors continued to struggle as the entire state was in drought at the end of the month. The harvest went quickly in northeast and east central Colorado where stands were poor or crops failed, per Kiowa County Press. Winter wheat emergence was uneven in areas, due to high winds and persistent dry conditions. Crop producers were concerned about extreme drought and were actively making alternate fall and spring cropping plans. Rangeland and feed availability remained primary concerns for livestock producers.
Massachusetts drought declaration, crop losses
Drought eased in Massachusetts in October, but impacts continued after a dry summer and early autumn. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs declared a Level 3 drought declaration, or critical drought, for southeast Massachusetts. The other six regions in the state remained at a Level 2, or significant drought. Residents were urged to continue conserving water as many communities had restrictions on water use. Caution with fire was also recommended.
Drought affected Massachusetts crops as some growers did not have irrigation or adequate water supplies. On Martha’s Vineyard, pumpkin stocks were depleted, due to demand, drought and deer, as reported by Vineyard Gazette. Pumpkins needed irrigation over the summer and did not grow as large as they typically do. Drought also reduced food supplies for deer, leading them to consume the pumpkins. In the eastern part of the state, a Christmas tree grower near Mendon lost 500 to 600 of the 1,500 seedlings he planted in the spring, due to drought, according to WFXT-TV Fox Channel 25 Boston.
Oregon’s second worst wildfire season, water shortages
Persistent drought in Oregon since the start of the year contributed to wildfires that erupted in September and burned into October. Severe drought, extreme winds and multiple fires led to Oregon’s second worst fire season on record, with almost 1.07 million acres burning in 2020, as reported by Statesman Journal, with most of the fires in the western half of the state. The cost of fighting the fires was $609 million and was still climbing. More than 4,000 homes burned.
Ongoing drought also affected water supplies. Talent Irrigation District’s three reservoirs were at their lowest point ever at the end of the growing season, collectively holding about 6,000 acre-feet of water, according to Medford Mail Tribune. Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant reservoirs have not been so low since they were brought online in the late 1950s and early 60s. With a forecast for warm, dry conditions for the remainder of 2020, there is concern for having adequate water for the 2021 growing season.
Southern Great Plains winter wheat needed moisture
Conditions were dry in the southern Great Plains, and moisture for crops was lacking. Winter wheat in Kansas had not yet germinated in some areas for lack of moisture, although it ought to be about four inches tall, as reported by KSNF. Wheat in western Kansas was spotty and at risk from winter kill due to severe drought, per KSN-TV. In central Kansas, wheat needed more moisture to germinate, as reported by KWCH 12. Wheat usually sprouts immediately, but dry conditions have not allowed germination to occur.
Oklahoma’s winter wheat was up and growing, but moisture was needed as the lack of moisture was beginning to take a toll on Oklahoma’s winter wheat pasture crop, which could affect the national cattle market, according to RFD TV.
For more drought info, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.