By Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, Washington, D.C.
During the five-week period ending on Aug. 4, 2015, contiguous U.S. drought coverage increased slightly to 27.13 percent—an increase of 1.25 percentage points. The Plains, Midwest, and Northeast remain largely free of drought, but hot, dry conditions have resulted in drought development in parts of the South. Portions of eastern Texas, which experienced the worst flooding in at least 25 years in late May and early June, received little or no rain during July and have witnessed “flash drought” conditions that have increased stress on pastures and shallow-rooted crops. In addition, significant drought continues in most areas west of the Rockies.
During the five weeks ending Aug. 4, statewide drought coverage increased from 27 to 64 percent in South Carolina; 0 to 34 percent in Louisiana; and 14 to 34 percent in Georgia. Nearly 5 percent of Texas was in drought on Aug. 4, compared with one-quarter of one percent on June 30. Waco, Texas, did not receive a single drop of rain during July, for only the third time on record, along with 1930 and 1993. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, topsoil moisture was rated at least half very short to short on Aug. 2 in South Carolina (83 percent), Louisiana (67 percent), Mississippi (64 percent), Texas (55 percent), and North Carolina (54 percent). North Carolina led the eastern half of the U.S. on Aug. 2 with 41 percent of its pastures rated very poor to poor.
Meanwhile, worsening drought in the Northwest led to sharp increases in the coverage of extreme to exceptional drought (D3 to D4) between June 30 and Aug. 4 in Washington (from 0 to 32 percent); Idaho (6 to 22 percent); Montana (0 to 14 percent); and Oregon (34 to 48 percent). During the same five-week period, California’s D3-D4 coverage remained unchanged at 71 percent, while Nevada’s coverage fell from 48 to 40 percent. The Northwestern drought situation was exacerbated by persistent heat; locations such as Salem, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, experienced not only their hottest July, but also their hottest month on record. By Aug. 6, nearly three dozen large wildfires, in various stages of containment, were actively burning in the Pacific Coast states. The largest current wildfire, the Rocky Fire near Clearlake, California, has charred nearly 70,000 acres of vegetation and destroyed 43 homes. By Aug. 2, California led the nation with 55 percent of its rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor, followed by Oregon (49 percent) and Washington (45 percent). The toll on agriculture extended to row crops; for example, nearly half (43 percent) of Washington’s spring wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition on Aug. 2.
In large part due to the Western drought, 14 percent of the U.S. hay production area and 16 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory were located in drought on Aug. 4. Both numbers were unchanged from June 30.
On Aug. 4, drought covered a negligible portion (1 percent or less) of the U.S. corn and soybean production areas.
Weather outlook: A storm system currently crossing the Ohio Valley will reach the Mid-Atlantic states on Friday. Rainy, breezy conditions will linger along portions of the Atlantic Seaboard into the weekend. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 1 to 2 inches along the path of the storm and in the Southeast, with 2- to 4-inch amounts possible along and near the Mid-Atlantic coast. Farther west, the interaction between a surge of monsoon moisture and a cold front could lead to 1- to 2-inch totals in portions of the Southwest, Intermountain West, northern and central Plains, and upper Midwest. However, mostly dry weather will persist into early next week across California, the interior Northwest, and the south-central U.S.
The next issuance of this emailed drought update will be Thursday, September 3, 2015, 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:
Archived “U.S. Crops in Drought” files can be downloaded: