by Brad Rippey, meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture
During the four-week period ending on Oct. 28, 2014, contiguous U.S. drought coverage decreased to 29.61 percent -- a 0.96 percentage point drop. Two weeks ago, on Oct. 14, U.S. drought coverage fell below 30 percent for the first time since Dec. 27, 2011.
During October, most of the significant changes involved removal of drought. In New England, for example, coverage of moderate drought (D1) fell during October from 99 to 79 percent in Rhode Island and from 27 to nearly 0 percent in Massachusetts. October decreases in drought coverage ranging from 6 to 10 percentage points were noted in Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama.
Drought still covers a substantial portion of the southern Plains and the western U.S. On Oct. 28, the highest level of drought—D4, or exceptional drought—was noted in portions of California (58 percent), Nevada (12 percent), Oklahoma (7 percent), and Texas (4 percent). California also led the nation with 82 percent coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4).
In addition, California topped the U.S. with 75 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated in very poor to poor condition on Oct. 26, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following California were Nevada (45 percent very poor to poor), Connecticut (45 percent), Vermont (39 percent), Oregon (38 percent), and New Mexico (35 percent). According to the latest “agriculture in drought” statistics, based on the Oct. 28 Drought Monitor, 19 percent of the domestic hay acreage and 28 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in a drought-affected area.
In recent weeks, warm, unfavorably dry weather has returned to portions of the southern Great Plains. This resurgent dryness could have implications for fall grazing of wheat on the southern Plains, as well as possible issues with establishment of the wheat crop. On Oct. 28, more than one-third (35 percent) of the nation’s winter wheat production area was located within a drought-affected region. The first USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service winter wheat condition report of the season, dated Oct. 26, indicated that 17 percent of the wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition in Texas, along with 13 percent in Oklahoma. Drought was also stressing wheat in parts of the Northwest, where the Washington crop was rated 15 percent very poor to poor.
At the end of 2014 growing season, the Midwest remains nearly drought-free. By Oct. 26, nearly three-quarters of the U.S. corn (74 percent) was rated in good to excellent condition—the highest end-of-season rating since 2004. On Oct. 28, drought covered just 5 percent of the U.S. corn production area and 2 percent of the soybean area.
Weather outlook: A sharp but short-lived surge of cold air will overspread the eastern half of the U.S. from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. Widespread, late-week freezes can be expected into the Mid-South. By Sunday morning, freezes will occur in the Southeast, excluding Florida and the immediate Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, cool air will also overspread the West. Precipitation associated with the Eastern cold outbreak should total an inch or less, although some snow will accumulate in the central Appalachians. Showery weather will persist in the Northwest, where five-day totals could reach 2 to 5 inches, and spread farther south and east by Friday. Parts of California could receive precipitation totals of 1 to 2 inches, with late-week snow expected in the Sierra Nevada. By early next week, rain will develop from the southern Plains into the middle Mississippi Valley.
PLEASE NOTE: The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, December 4, 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 online:
Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded: