National Drought Mitigation Center


U.S. crops and pastures generally good to excellent in May 2016

June 2, 2016

During the 4-week period ending on May 31, 2016, contiguous U.S. drought coverage decreased to 12.73 percent—down 1.83 percentage points.  Aside from lingering, long-term drought in parts of California and the Southwest, U.S. drought is mostly short term in nature and limited to an area centered on the southern Appalachians.

Since a weather pattern change in mid-April, showery weather has covered much of the nation, including the Great Plains.  By May 31, only 2 percent of the U.S. winter wheat production area was affected by drought, down from 19 percent on April 12.  Based on USDA crop conditions reported for May 29, U.S. winter wheat was rated 63 percent good to excellent and 8 percent very poor to poor.  In the last two decades, only 1998, 1999, and 2010 featured higher late-May crop ratings for U.S. winter wheat.

On May 31, drought was affecting just 10 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory, down from a recent maximum of 19 percent on April 12.  Similarly, only 8 percent of the nation’s hay area was in drought, down from an April 12 peak of 12 percent.  Not surprisingly, given the widespread spring rainfall, nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of the U.S. rangeland and pastures were rated in good to excellent condition on May 29.  During the last 22 years, U.S. rangeland and pasture conditions were higher at the end of May only twice—in 1995 and 2010.  All three—1995, 2010, and 2016—featured El Niño in progress as the year began.

On May 31, the nation’s corn and soybean production areas remained mostly free of drought—less than 1 percent drought coverage for both commodities.  On May 29, the first U.S. corn condition report of the season indicated that crop was rated 72 percent good to excellent and just 4 percent very poor to poor—on par with, but slightly below, the ratings at the same time last year (74 percent good to excellent and 3 percent very poor to poor).  Early-season (late-May) corn condition ratings were also slightly higher in several other years, including 1998, 1999, 2007, 2010, the drought year of 2012, and 2014.

Northern California continued to experience incremental improvement from long-term drought, while southern California headed into a fifth year of drought.  On May 31, nearly 84 percent of California remained in drought, down from 97 percent as recently as March 8.  However, California’s coverage of exceptional drought (D4) has fallen from 46 to 21 percent since October 1, 2015.  Meanwhile in the Southwest, drought covered 59 percent of Arizona and 37 percent of New Mexico on May 31.  Farther east, short-term drought across the interior Southeast expanded by May 31 to cover 47 percent of Tennessee, 28 percent of Georgia, 27 percent of Alabama, 11 percent of North Carolina, and 10 percent of South Carolina.

Short-Term weather outlook:  Locally heavy showers and thunderstorms will continue in central, southern, and eastern Texas through Saturday, June 4, leading to the likelihood of additional flooding.  Three-day rainfall totals in Texas could reach 2 to 6 inches.  Meanwhile, scattered southern and eastern showers could total 1 to 3 inches, with some of the heaviest rain expected in the central Gulf Coast region on Friday, June 3; the Tennessee Valley on Saturday, June 4; and the Northeast on Sunday, June 5.  Parts of the upper Great Lakes region could receive late-week rainfall of 1 to 2 inches.  By early next week, heavy showers may affect Florida’s peninsula, while mostly dry weather should prevail in the western and central U.S.  Meanwhile, western heat will build eastward across the High Plains during the next 5 days, while generally cooler-than-normal conditions will cover the eastern half of the U.S. 

Please Note:  The next issuance of this drought update will be Thursday, July 7, 2016, unless conditions warrant an earlier release. 


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