Drought conditions worsening

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The last week has seen a worsening of drought conditions across Southeast Missouri, pushing the region's southernmost portions into severe drought, according to the latest drought report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

With drought conditions this severe, brief downpours like the one experienced Thursday evening in Cape Girardeau won't even put a dent in the problem, climate specialists say.

Downtown Cape Girardeau received 0.55 inches of rain Thursday, according to measurements taken by the Southeast Missourian at city hall. Only a trace of rain was measured by the National Weather Service at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

"It would be nice to see a wet weather pattern over a long period of time," said Pat Guinan, a climatologist with the University of Missouri Extension service. "We don't want a four-inch rainfall in one hour. A soaking rain over a two-week period would be nice to start mitigating the situation. It doesn't mitigate the drought condition. It takes a while to get into a drought condition and a while to get out of the drought condition."

Getting out of a drought

Drought conditions have affected Southeast Missouri more than any other part of the state. In much of the southeastern United States, the drought is even more severe.

This year has been the driest in 47 years in the period from March 1 to Aug. 16, Guinan said. Only 12.75 inches of precipitation have fallen since March 1. For the entire year Cape Girardeau is 10 inches below normal precipitation levels.

Getting out of the drought condition may be unlikely, according to a drought assessment released Friday by the National Weather Service. The service report said drought will persist across the region through autumn.

Mary Lamm, a service hydrologist in Paducah, Ky., said the continuing drought could mean a high fire danger when leaves fall from trees this autumn. The drought could also lead to a strain on all water resources, including subsurface water supplies and streams.

"Quick downbursts aren't really going to have an effect," Lamm said. Such rainfalls "might as well be falling on concrete," because much of the water runs off instead of soaking into the soil, she said.

The hardest-hit area in Southeast Missouri is the extreme southern portion near the Arkansas border. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists all of Pemiscot and parts of New Madrid, Dunklin and Mississippi counties in severe drought, while counties from Stoddard and Scott north beyond the St. Louis area are in moderate drought.

Effect on agriculture

The dry conditions mean what started out as a good year for agriculture may turn into a nightmare. While most corn crops are out of a stage where the drought will severely impact yields, that's not the case for soybeans planted after the wheat harvest and cotton. Pasture land and hay fields have already been devastated by the heat and lack of rain.

"Wheat field beans are flowering through pod development right now," said George Ohmes, a University of Missouri Extension agronomist in Mississippi County. "When you hit this kind of stress level, you start losing pods, so yield potential is going down every day."

At this stage the plants need about a quarter-inch of moisture every day, something hard to achieve even with irrigation, Ohmes said. Even beans planted earlier in the year are starting to feel the stress of heat and lack of moisture, Ohmes said.

Extension agronomist Jeff House sees some trouble on the horizon for cotton crops in Dunklin and Pemiscot counties, but said it's still too early to know just how adversely affected the plants will be. House calls 2007 one of the worst years he's ever seen for agriculture.

"I'm dealing with some guys who haven't had a rain since the end of June or early July," House said.

Some soybean crops may see a 95 percent reduction in yield, he said.

"Some of them won't even be worth cutting."


335-6611, extension 182

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