What is in this article?:
• Repercussions of the 2012 drought are set to challenge the 2013 growing season.
• The Corn Belt is especially vulnerable.
• “There are more straws in the drink putting more demand on a finite water resource.” — Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center
Drought goes in cycles
“The Missouri Basin is the largest drainage basin in the country. Drought goes in cycles hydrologically-speaking just as it does for agriculture for those relying on rivers for navigation, for transport of goods, for irrigation.
“It was really interesting to look at 2011 right before the drought of 2012 when we had record-high run-off into the Missouri Basin and record flooding. The very next year: record-low inflow and severe drought throughout.”
Not only was 2012 a terrible drought year for the United States, it was also the hottest year on record — going back to 1895.
2012 “only came in as the fifteenth driest year if you look at the big picture,” said Svoboda. “But that’s only if you don’t zoom in and look at some of the individual state numbers.”
Zooming in, Svoboda said 19 states had record warm years. Two states, Nebraska and Wyoming, had their hottest and driest years on record. “That isn’t a combination you want to see.”
And the costs of the 2012 drought have soared. According to data from the Climatic Data Center, “we had 11 disasters that cost at least $1 billion. Those were highlighted by Hurricane Sandy, of course, but also by the drought.
“Droughts, typically, are on average the No. 1 cause of economic loss in the country. People used to think that (designation belonged) to hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. The fact is, droughts cover potentially millions of square miles and effect millions of people and last a lot longer than most other hazards.”
From Indiana all the way to Nebraska — virtually the entire Corn Belt — has been, or is, in drought. Immediate concerns include winter wheat in Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Texas.
Winter wheat “has taken a real beating in the Southern Plains. There are a lot of issues with dryness and, in fact, many didn’t bother to plant. They’re hoping for a good spring, good moisture. Otherwise many say, ‘We aren’t going to bother.’ So, there isn’t a good situation for the early estimates for winter wheat.”
What set apart the 2012 drought — “and we hadn’t seen heat like this since 1988/1989” — was the number of 100-degree heat days. “In Nebraska there was over a month of 100-degree heat. We also saw that press into the Midwest into Missouri, southern Illinois. That isn’t usual for those states and it exacerbated the drought.”
Svoboda said the evolution of the drought can be traced back to the fall of 2010. It emerged in the Southeast and Southern Plains. That fall, “we started to see signs of it pushing up the Mississippi and Missouri Valley. It was a dry fall followed by a very mild winter with warm temperatures, not a lot of soil freezing, and a continuing drawdown of the Great Lakes — which, by the way, are at or near record lows depending on the lake.”
The most recent data shows over half the country remains in drought. That is down from the apex of around 65 percent in late September of 2012.