The NDMC added 96 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter in May as drought expanded and intensified in parts of the Great Plains and western U.S., as well as in a small part of the Southeast, while easing in southern Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Texas and Colorado both had 17 impacts in May, documenting mostly agricultural challenges. Florida followed with 15 impacts, largely describing the increased fire danger and fire restrictions that affected much of the state.
Shifting drought in Texas, hay shortage
Toward the start of May, conditions were driest in southern Texas, where pastures were beginning to brown in some areas, per AgriLife Today (College Station, Texas). South Texas ranchers were experiencing a hay shortage with bales rising in price from $35 to $40 per bale to $110 to $120 per bale, according to KRISTV NBC 6 Corpus Christi. Ranchers were having to choose between buying hay from outside the area and selling livestock. As the month wore on, rain fell and improved drought conditions until the area was free of drought by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, drought conditions developed in the Texas Panhandle. Dryland cotton farmers were waiting for rain to plant, and pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to good, as reported in AgriLife Today. Conditions were deteriorating in Far West Texas as well, with crops, pastures and rangelands suffering from dry weather and high temperatures.
Dry Colorado crops, rangelands
Colorado experienced a largely dry May, apart from the northeast where drought eased. Some winter wheat still failed in the northeast, while in east central Colorado, concern remained high for rangeland grass production and the condition of dryland crops, per Kiowa County Press (Eads, Colorado). Some corn growers in southeastern Colorado were not able to plant due to continued dry conditions and low irrigation water supplies. In southern Colorado, rangeland growth in the San Luis Valley was limited for lack of moisture. Availability of early grazing was reduced.
Water supplies were a concern in western Colorado after a dry April and May. In late May, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association issued their first call for water use cuts, asking users to reduce their use to 90 percent of normal, as reported in Montrose Daily Press. Earlier in the spring, water cuts seemed likely in July, but the following dry months hastened the cuts. Forage production was also low on the rangelands after a dry fall, low snowpack at lower elevations and the dry spring.
Florida restrictions, wildfires
The rising fire danger, wildfires and fire restrictions were the most concerning issues for Florida in May. Many counties banned outdoor burning as the month remained dry until the latter part.
The Five Mile Swamp Fire began in Santa Rosa County on May 4 and grew into a 250-acre fire that was 40 percent contained by the morning of May 6, per Fort Myers News-Press. By the evening of May 6, the blaze, driven by high winds and low humidity, had scorched more than 2,000 acres. Evacuations were recommended for 1,100 homes.
In Collier County in southwest Florida, two wildfires merged in mid-May, creating an 8,000-acre fire, dubbed the 36th Avenue SE fire. The blaze led to mandatory evacuations, closed a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 75 and destroyed more than a dozen homes, according to Tampa Bay Times. As of May 21, the fire had burned 8,250 acres and was 95 percent contained, per WINK News (Fort Myers, Fla.).
Short water supplies in southern Oregon, emergency declarations
Irrigation water supply shortages and county drought declarations were some of the issues affecting Oregonians in May. The Klamath Project in southern Oregon has about 80,000 acre-feet of water for irrigators after a dry April, with water deliveries possibly ending by or before July, which could cause a complete loss of crop and investment, as reported by Capital Press (Salem, Oregon). The April water allocation totaled 140,000 acre-feet.
With the drastic cut in water supplies, making 2020 the second-worst water shortage year, the growing season looks disastrous for farmers, who were urged to idle land. The water shortage will likely mean the end of many family farms in the project, according to Brad Kirby, manager and president of the Tulelake Irrigation District.
Drought prompted several counties to make drought declarations in anticipation of a difficult year. Governor Kate Brown approved Coos County’s drought declaration on May 15, after county commissioners passed their drought declaration in April, per Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Oregon). Other counties with similar declarations included Curry, Jackson and Klamath. In Douglas County, officials declared an emergency drought order, due to below-average snowpack and precipitation and low stream flows, as reported in The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon).
California water supplies
As northern California remained dry, water supplies became a concern. In Sonoma County, officials intended to request permission from the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce water levels in the Russian River this summer to conserve water stored in Lake Mendocino to reserve water for minimal late-season flows for fish, per The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California). Rainfall was half of normal in the inland areas of Mendocino County, where Lake Mendocino retains runoff into the upper Russian River.
After a very dry winter, the State Water Project increased its allocation to 20 percent following above-normal precipitation in May, according to the California Department of Water Resources (Sacramento). The initial allocation in December 2019 was 10 percent, and the January estimate was increased to 15 percent. The most recent allocation will likely be final for 2020.
Fire danger, restrictions in New Mexico
Fire danger was high in New Mexico, with dry conditions resulting in fire restrictions. In addition to aiming to curb the incidence of wildfires, another goal in New Mexico, and elsewhere, was to protect firefighters from contracting COVID-19 because firefighters work in close proximity with each other, making it difficult to stem disease transmission.
Three national forests in northern New Mexico were implementing fire restrictions to limit the likelihood of human-caused fires in the Carson, Cibola and Santa Fe forests, per Associated Press. The restrictions began May 20. Campfires and driving off designated roads were prohibited.
Campfires were also prohibited in Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico. In addition, the New Mexico state forester imposed restrictions on fireworks, campfires and other activities on all non-municipal, non-federal and non-tribal lands statewide, due to the rising fire danger.
Fire restrictions took effect for the Navajo Nation, due to extreme drought conditions and elevated fire danger, as reported in Farmington Daily Times. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued an executive order based on recommendations by the Navajo Forestry Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Region Wildland Fire and Aviation Management. Open burning and fireworks were prohibited.
Winter wheat status
Winter wheat in parts of Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma were hurt by drought and late freezes as noted in the spring wheat tours. In Colorado, the crop is forecast at 54.2 million bushels for the southeast, east central and northeast districts of the state, according to World-Grain (Kansas City, Missouri). Some crop abandonment was anticipated in all districts, but notably up to 25 percent in southeast Colorado.
Drought and freeze damage was a problem for Kansas wheat, where yield estimates were as low as 41.1 bushels per acre in north central Kansas, where the precipitation deficit was around 5 inches, per DTN – The Progressive Farmer (Birmingham, Alabama). Yield estimates were 42.5 bushels per acre in west central Kansas and 32.9 in southwest Kansas, as reported by DTN – The Progressive Farmer. Many winter wheat fields in western Oklahoma and southwest Kansas were being plowed under, according to Oklahoma Farm Report (Oklahoma City).
For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.