Will Rain and Snow Bust Nebraska’s Drought?

Nebraska has been dealing with severe drought conditions since last summer. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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April 11, 2013 - 6:30am

It may seem odd to talk about drought during a week that has included rain and snow across Nebraska. But the state has been dealing with severe drought conditions since last summer, a situation putting stress on all who rely on water, including cities and farmers. Mike Tobias of NET News talked about the situation this week with climatologist Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Every Thursday, that group puts out an evaluation of U.S. drought conditions called the Drought Monitor.  The highlights of Tobias' interview with Svoboda cover this week’s Drought Monitor, the impact of the rain and snow, and whether we can expect drought conditions to continue.

CLICK HERE for the latest Drought Monitor from the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL



Mark Svoboda, UNL National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist

The latest Drought Monitor map and current drought conditions in Nebraska

Svoboda said the latest Drought Monitor (released Thursday, April 11) includes information gathered through Tuesday morning, before much of this week’s precipitation. “Even with these recent rains we’re seeing here this week, we’re still looking at 100 percent coverage of the state in drought,” Svoboda said. “I think the real question will be just how beneficial are these rains and how much improvement will we see on next week’s map.”

The severity of Nebraska’s drought

The Drought Monitor ranks drought conditions from D-0 (abnormally dry) to D-4 (exceptional drought). Since last September, much of Nebraska has been in the D-4 category. “So a one inch (rain) event really doesn’t totally eradicate that altogether,” Svoboda said. “Even if it does you’re still left in D-3, which relatively speaking is improvement, but we have some pretty large deficits to overcome.”

The timing of this week’s precipitation

This week’s rain and snow came at a good time, in terms of drought relief. “It’s prior to planting,” Svoboda said. “If we can get this moisture into the profile I think we have plenty to get up and going. I think the question is will it be enough to sustain throughout the entire growing season. Secondly, the soils are now thawed out, and so that rain we are getting now will work its way down into the profile, at least down into the top foot and a half, maybe two feet for some areas.”

Impacts of the drought

The National Drought Mitigation Center also reports on short and long term impacts of drought, which Svoboda said are cumulative. “We saw fire issues, the largest number of acres burned in the state on record last year, followed by impacts to crops, and range and pastureland in particular for cattle producers,” Svoboda said. “We saw impacts to several communities' water supplies. Their well levels had gone way down. That’s still a real concern moving forward. It’s typically the last domino that is recharged. We still have some hydrological issues with Lake McConaughy, with the Republican River system. Those reservoirs are really down, and so we need more than this one system to really help us out in those areas. That might take several months to bail us out of those conditions."

Outlook for the next few months

The latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, published by the National Weather Service on April 4, calls for ongoing drought but some improvement for almost all of Nebraska through June. “I think what will happen is you will see recovery,” Svoboda said. “Once we get into June or July, though, then it’s really spotty because of hit and miss thunderstorm activity. You don’t have these wide system fronts that come in and dump large amounts, one to two inches (of rain) across the entire state like we’re seeing this week. So what needs to happen is we see enough recovery to get the top part of the profile in good shape so that yards, gardens and crops will get up and going. The problem is going to be from a long-term perspective, a lot of these pastures and rangelands are really desiccated and it takes more than even one season to rebound. We need sustained improvement, and we also need to hopefully not see the sort of temperatures that we saw last year. That would really help keep the demand down for the entire system."



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