Blizzards bring drought relief to wheat belt
By Alex Sosnowski
Expert Senior Meteorologist, AccuWeather.com
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — AccuWeather.com reports two blizzards in less than a week have eased drought concerns in the short term for a large portion of the central and southern Plains. However, more moisture is needed moving forward to completely break the drought everywhere.
A large part of the winter wheat belt has received a big break from two massive snowstorms during the latter half of February 2013.
AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions Senior Vice President Mike Smith said, “The weather pattern over the Plains for the next two weeks is also favorable for additional moisture in some locations.”
Much of the Plains is suffering from a long-term drought that began last summer.
The main winter wheat belt extends from northwestern Texas to the Dakotas with other significant winter wheat areas over the Mississippi Valley, the Midwest, interior Northwest and part of the Atlantic Seaboard.
The combination of the two storms has put down the equivalent of 2 to 3 inches of rain from portions of the Texas Panhandle to northern Missouri. Much of this moisture is locked up in the 2 to 4 feet of snow that fell during the storms, and will gradually melt in the coming days and weeks.
Storms since Jan. 1 cumulatively added significant moisture. The combined rainfall ranged from 5 to 10 inches over a significant part of the central and southern Plains in the winter wheat belt.
A storm during the middle of December also provided an early boost in central and northern areas.
According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, “Additional moisture to near harvest time is no longer critical in many winter wheat areas, thanks to the recent storms, but it is still important.”
Harvest of the winter wheat over the Plains begins in the south during May and finishes in the Dakotas during July, on average. The wheat is planted in the autumn, goes dormant over the winter, and re-sprouts and matures during the spring to early summer.
As big as the storms were, they did not deliver heavy snow and moisture everywhere. Much less snow, and the moisture content within, fell over winter wheat and cattle-grazing areas of western Kansas, western and northern Nebraska, and eastern Colorado, for example.
“The Ogallala Aquifer has received a little moisture and will get a little more, but much more is needed,” Smith said.
The aquifer gets much of its recharge from the Sand Hills of northern Nebraska, which has received little moisture since the first of the year. The aquifer is the biggest source of drinking water over the High Plains region and supplies a large percentage of water for irrigation in the region.
A key to forecasting Great Plains rainfall for the latter part of the spring and summer is determining where the greatest frequency of thunderstorm complexes will be.
“There is great challenge of forecasting summer precipitation over the Plains,” Smith said. “There are often great variances with precipitation.”
AccuWeather.com will be taking a look at long-range prospects for moisture over the Plains and other areas of the nation for the spring and early summer in the coming weeks.
As far as the next couple of weeks are concerned, storms are likely to track farther north than the two recent blockbuster storms have done. This is likely to distribute some needed moisture to the northern Plains and will continue to bring moisture to areas farther east to the Mississippi Valley. However, moisture may be stingy over portions of eastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico and western Kansas with the projected storm track.
Moisture has been stingy in California over the winter, and problems may arise as a result.
Winter snowfall and the spring snow melt over the mountains are key components for drinking water and irrigation throughout the year in California and the Western U.S.
Posted Feb. 27, 2013