News release: Two-Year Drought Summary

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: April 3, 2014

Headline: Two-Year Drought Summary

While the 2013 growing season was not as hard hit by drought and high temperatures compared to 2012, we did, unfortunately, have a second year of drought in a row.

In January 2013, most of Missouri was still in drought, either as a D1 or D2 drought stage. Spring in 2013 brought some significant relief, with rains eventually bringing the Drought Monitor rating of all of Missouri to a drought-free status by the end of May.

But that was short-lived. By mid-July, we were back to abnormally dry, and by the end of the month, most of the NW Region counties were back to a D1 drought stage. By the end of August, D2 drought was showing up across a good part of north Missouri.

So how did the year end up? If you look at just 2013, the National Weather Service forecast office in Pleasant Hill reports precipitation deficits from 8.77 below normal in downtown Kansas City to 1.09 below normal in Kirksville.  St. Joseph had a deficit of 4.51 inches. 

Chillicothe, on the other hand, actually had a surplus of 1.25 above normal for 2013. This surplus, however, was mostly due to above normal precipitation that fell during the first five months of 2013.

While 2013 was not as bad as 2012, when you look at the situation over two years, 2012-2013, the total deficits really add up.  Downtown Kansas City, for example, was short 17.34 inches from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013. Kirksville was short a bit over 11 inches. St. Joseph was 12.33 below normal.  And Chillicothe was 8.15 inches behind normal.

My own CoCoRaHS observations reflect a similar trend here in Gallatin. Using the new climate normals (1981-2010), my shortfall was 12.73 in 2012, and 2.09 for 2013.  That gives a two year deficit of 14.82 inches below normal.

So how does the situation look currently? North Missouri remains abnormally dry at present, except for the extreme northwest corner, which is classed as D-1 drought. While abnormally dry is not considered drought, I still believe we have major problems in our sub-surface root zone water supply.  Most of the rain and snow we received this winter was not able to penetrate the frozen ground.  We’re still short.

Dr. Pat Guinan is our MU Missouri State Climatologist. He recently told me, “Significant precipitation deficits have accumulated across northwestern Missouri over the past couple years. Some relief occurred during the spring of last year, but drought returned the following summer, and quickly reversed the brief trend of water recovery. It’s imperative a wet weather pattern establish itself this spring, because water resources above and below the ground have not entirely recovered since 2012. The antecedent conditions have increased the vulnerability for going into a drought this growing season if sufficient and timely rains do not return.”

Another University of Missouri researcher is Dr. Randall Miles, an associate professor of soil science. He says that the soil in much of Missouri is still dry about four to five feet down where crop roots live. While this is an improvement from a year ago when the drought resulted in dry soils down to almost six feet, it still could produce poor yields for farmers, if it is not replenished.

Will we get the relief that we need? According to the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, their predictions show equal chances of above normal, normal, or below normal precipitation.  Also, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook from March 20 to June 30 indicates that drought status removal is likely for all of Missouri.

That would be great news, if precipitation returns to normal.  But remember those precipitation deficits and the shortage of water in the root zone… we still have a way to go to really get caught up.