Drought Concerns Remain Ahead of Spring Planting


As spring approaches, drought conditions are a concern in several locations across rural America. John Baranick, an agricultural meteorologist with DTN, says drought conditions cover a wide area of the U.S.

“Everywhere west of the Rockies is in drought, and then almost all of the plains is too. So outside of like the eastern Dakotas, basically, if you’re along or west of the Missouri River, you’re in drought. It was kind of late 2020 when it started. We saw some flash droughts in Iowa that caused issues right before they had their derecho that moved through. We started seeing some drought pop up in there, and drought in the West too, but really it was last year that was the big year for drought. A lot of areas in the West, in the northwestern Corn Belt there, us here in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana, we all suffered that last year.”

Last fall, the drought expanded across Nebraska down through Texas and into Louisiana. He says the drought has been firmly entrenched across those areas because of La Niña.

“We’ve been in two straight years of La Niña, and so we have one from going into the winter of 2020 to 2021 was a La Niña year. We got out of it briefly in spring and summer of ‘21Niña  but went right back into it in the fall. We’ve been in La Niña year since then. That really has a huge impact on keeping the West, really the Southern Plains, dry too. We had a really freak accident that occurred last spring that spared the southern plains where La Niña kind of abruptly went from being in a La Niña state into a neutral state in like March and April. That kind of threw the pattern off a little bit. We got some pretty good precipitation down there that saved their season last year. Otherwise, they were headed for crazy drought, just like the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana had last year.”

There will be at least some opportunities for relief during March though according to Baranick.

“We’ve got a weird shift in the pattern, and it’s allowing for some deeper systems to form. So, what we have been seeing, and what is typical of a La Niña pattern, we get a ridge of high pressure across the eastern Pacific up into Alaska, and that blocks all the storm systems from moving into the West and building up these big storm systems that move from like Texas or Kansas all the way up into the Great Lakes and gives us really big widespread precipitation events. Well over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a little bit of faltering in that, and it looks like that’s going to continue here into March.”

While nothing is certain, he says it’s at least a chance to start putting a dent in the drought cycle.

“We could see a lot more variability in the pattern, so getting more systems to go through the West helping to alleviate some of that drought, having them then emerging into the plains and draw in a little bit more moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and bring that in as well. It depends on where the storm systems track and everything, but at least the month of March gives a lot of these drought areas some opportunity for drought reduction, but to have it go away is going to take more than just one month worth of precipitation.”