Transition to El Niño Brings Midwest Drought

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El Niño and La Niña are the troublesome duo responsible for the lack of rain in the majority of the Midwest, according to Dev Niyogi, climatologist and professor at Purdue University, who spoke at the Brock Summer Seminars in Lafayette, IN and Bloomington, IL.

This is a transition year from the La Niña weather seen in 2011 to El Nino, which should take full effect by the early fall of 2012. That shift means the high amount of rains the U.S. received during the winter and spring of 2011 have been replaced by prolonged dryness. Significant relief may not arrive for some time.

The upcoming two weeks are crucial in early corn development, but Niyogi predicts the drought to worsen next week unless a tropical hurricane forms and changes weather patterns, which looks unlikely at this point. In two weeks time, with no rain, the drought is expected to widen and migrate westward. Also, above-average temperatures "if anything, will intensify for the next several weeks," according to Dr. Niyogi.

The tropical storm season may provide relief for the southern states, he says noting the heavy rains Florida has received from Tropical Storm Debby.

The way the drought is affecting the crops is severe. Although it is more damaging to early planted corn, which is entering a crucial development stage, soybeans are not unaffected. Crops are losing about 1/4 in. of water due to evaporation every day. If the dry weather continues, it will prevent many double-crop soybean acres from being planted this year.

Current Drought Conditions in the U.S. Corn Belt

Some 45% of the Midwest was experiencing moderate or greater drought conditions by Tuesday, with that area having increased by 8 percentage points in just a week’s time, according to the weekly U.S. drought monitor issued on Thursday.

The majority of Indiana is in a severe drought, along with central and southeastern Illinois. Some parts of Illinois have only received 21% of their normal monthly rainfall amount for June, and the state as a whole has received 42% of its normal amount for this month. Ohio and Michigan face moderate drought conditions along with Missouri and drought is spreading to Iowa.

Dry soil moisture conditions have not spread as far, mainly affecting Indiana and Illinois. The area of southern Illinois, western Kentucky, southeastern Mississippi and all of Alabama have excessive to severe dry soil conditions.

In the long term outlook, moderate drought and dry soil moisture conditions are forecast to spread to southern Wisconsin and become more severe in Illinois and Indiana, with some severe drought developing in northern Minnesota as well.

For the western areas of the Corn Belt, soil moisture drought conditions are much less severe, only slightly dry in a small area of Iowa.

Western Nebraska and Kansas have more severely dry soil conditions, but due to the high amount of irrigation in Nebraska, that state’s corn condition rating was still at 60% good/excellent as of June 25.

However, the long-term soil moisture outlook for the western Corn Belt does not look so promising. Moderate drought will spread to cover almost all of Iowa, Nebraska and the majority of Kansas by the end of September, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

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