USDA Meteorologist Eric Lubebehusen says the intensity and coverage of the drought has increased as a result of more dry weather. Some level of drought now covers 62.7-percent of the contiguous 48 U.S. states. That’s double the extent of a year ago – when the drought was centered on Oklahoma and Texas. It has spread across most of the Midwest since the spring and has caused major economic damage. And since the drought just isn’t loosening its grip – Mark Svoboda at the National Drought Mitigation Center said this week it’s hard to put it in historical perspective.
Svoboda says the next few months will be critical in determining if the ag industry faces another harsh growing season. He says snow in the Rocky Mountains and across the Midwest would ease conditions heading into the spring. This is actually a time of year – according to Svoboda – where nature can catch its breath. He says there isn’t a great demand for water by plants – so moisture can be stored in the ground and in snow pack. He says the current situation isn’t favorable. In fact – because of a lack of rain in September, October and November – Svoboda says the winter wheat crop is getting hammered. But he says there is time to make up for the lack of moisture. But if we are still this dry at the end of January – he says there will be a lot more concern.
Drought Causes River Transportation Issue
The impact of the drought on crop and livestock producers has been well documented this year. Now another issue is emerging. Water levels on the Mississippi River are falling – and if they get too low – the nation’s main inland waterway could become impassable to barges. The river could reach the point where it’s too shallow for the barges that carry food, fuel and other commodities. Experts say the economic losses could climb into the billions if the Mississippi is closed for a lengthy period. Not only would the shipping and grain industries feel the pain of such a closure – but consumers could see higher grocery and utility bills. Don Sweeney with the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis says higher prices would be inevitable.
The biggest area of concern is a 180-mile stretch between the confluences of the Missouri River near St. Louis and the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois. A lack of rain has squeezed the channel from its normal one-thousand foot or more width to just a few hundred feet. The depth of the river is 15 to 20 feet less than normal – about 13 feet deep in many places. At a depth of nine feet – rock pinnacles at two locations make it difficult – if not impossible – for barges to pass. National Weather Service hydrologists predict the river will reach that nine-foot mark by December 9th.
The situation has been made worse by an Army Corps of Engineers decision to reduce the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam in South Dakota. There the drought has intensified – so to ease the effects of the drought in the northern Missouri River basin – the flow is gradually being cut by more than two-thirds by December 11th.
Source: NAFB News Service