National Drought Mitigation Center


"New Dust Bowl" or "Terrible Teens" drought taking a toll

May 5, 2014

Analysis from Brad Rippey, meteorologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Chief Economist: 

During the four-week period ending on April 29, 2014, contiguous U.S. drought coverage remained virtually unchanged (up 0.06 percentage point) at 38.43%.  Nevertheless, drought coverage is at its highest point since October 8, 2013, and up 7.48 percentage points from the beginning of the year.

In April, devastatingly dry, dusty, windy conditions on the southern Great Plains fueled concerns of a “New Dust Bowl.”  The “Terrible Teens” drought, which for many parts of the southern Great Plains began in the fall of 2010 and has lasted for more than 3½ years, continued to take a severe toll on rangeland, pastures, and winter wheat.  During the four weeks ending April 1, coverage of extreme drought (D3) climbed from 14 to 25% in Kansas, while extreme to exceptional drought (D3/D4) coverage rose from 24 to 39% in Oklahoma; 27 to 38% in Texas; and 25 to 33% in New Mexico.
A mid-April cold snap added “freeze insult” to drought-injured wheat on the southern Great Plains.  Another cold wave at month’s end may have caused additional harm to the crop in beleaguered southern wheat production areas.  By April 27, one-third (33%) of the U.S. winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition, identical to the end-of-April rating for last year’s drought-affected crop.  Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the wheat was rated very poor to poor in Oklahoma and Texas, while roughly one-third of the crop was rated very poor to poor in Kansas (37%) and Colorado (33%).  The portion of the winter wheat production area in drought has been hovering just above the 50-percent mark in recent weeks and stood at 53% on April 29.  This value is very similar to what was noted a year ago, on April 30, 2013, when 54% of the wheat crop was in drought.  Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of the winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition on April 29, 2014, in several states, including South Dakota (65% good to excellent), Montana (64%), Arkansas (63%), Illinois (62%), and Indiana (62%).
Periodic April storms provided temporary relief to drought-stricken areas from California into the Southwest.  April precipitation briefly eased irrigation requirements and aided rain-fed rangeland, pastures, and crops across the nation’s southwestern quadrant, but water-supply prospects for the summer remained bleak.  California’s coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3/D4) rose from 69 to 77% during the four weeks ending April 29, while Nevada’s coverage climbed from 34 to 39%.
With the agricultural focus turning toward spring planting – nearly one-fifth (19%) of the intended U.S corn acreage was planted by April 27 – it is worth noting that drought lingers in portions of the western Corn Belt.  By April 29, about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. corn production area was in drought, down 5 percentage points from four weeks ago.  Similarly, 19% of the soybean production area was in drought on April 29, down 5 points from April 1.

Weather outlook:  A pesky low-pressure system over the upper Midwest will slowly drift northward, although a few rain and snow showers may linger into the weekend across the Great Lakes region.  Meanwhile, early-season heat across parts of the western U.S. will expand across the central and southern Plains late in the week and into the Southeast during the weekend.  Chilly conditions will persist, however, across the nation’s northern tier.  By early next week, a new storm system will arrive in the Northwest and begin to take aim on the nation’s mid-section.  Early indications are that next week’s storm may have a similar footprint to this week’s sprawling system, with heavy precipitation in the northern U.S. and windy conditions from the Southwest to the Great Plains.



PLEASE NOTE:  The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, June 5, 2014, unless conditions warrant an earlier release.  The “U.S. Crops in Drought” products will still be produced on a weekly basis, and can be viewed at:
Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded at:


Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist
Office of the Chief Economist
World Agricultural Outlook Board
Washington, D.C.