A mix of temperatures and rainfall totals resulted in differing conditions across all regions this Drought Monitor period, though cooler temperatures in the Midwest allowed crops to thrive while continuing dryness in California kept pasture conditions poor.
Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this week's drought map author, says spotty showers were prevalent in the East, while it was mostly dry in the Midwest except for a few bands of heavy showers.
The rain-temperature combination was beneficial for crops; On July 27, USDA rated three-quarters of the U.S. corn and 71% of the soybeans in good to excellent condition—the highest such ratings this late in the season since 2004, Rippey said.
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A spell of hot weather, however, hastened winter wheat maturation on the northern Plains and promoted rapid crop development throughout the nation's mid-section. It also stressed some summer crops, especially in areas dependent upon rain or with lingering subsoil moisture deficits.
Elsewhere, cooler weather and beneficial showers overspread the Northwest, aiding containment efforts for a rash of lightning-sparked wildfires. However, the weather pattern reversed during the second half of the drought-monitoring period, with heat returning to the Northwest and a monsoon surge delivering heavy rain to parts of the Southwest.
In the Southeast, hit or miss showers brought a mix of deterioration and improvement. Moderate drought was introduced in a few areas, including parts of western Kentucky, central Alabama, and southern Georgia.
According to the USDA, hot, dry weather is taking a toll on crops and cotton and peanuts are at a critical stage of water requirements in order to make yield. Corn needs rainfall, USDA reported, and hay and pastures need rain for the next cutting.
Southeastern pastures are beginning to deteriorate. On July 27, USDA reported 45% of the pastures were rated in very poor to poor condition in South Carolina, along with 23% in Virginia and 20% in Kentucky.
Northern Plains and Midwest
Patchy July dryness across the northern Plains and Midwest stood in stark contrast to near-record to record-setting June wetness, Rippey said.
While impacts from July dryness have been slow to emerge, pockets of abnormal dryness have begun to develop in a few areas of the western and southwestern Corn Belt, he said.
By July 27, about one-sixth of the rangeland and pastures rated in very poor to poor condition in Montana and Nebraska (16% in both states). On the same date, topsoil moisture ranged from one-quarter to one-half very short to short in several states across the northern Plains and Midwest, including Montana (48%), Nebraska (41%), Missouri (39%), South Dakota (29%), and Michigan (26%).
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Southern Plains and West
Cooler, showery weather late in the period helped to offset the effects of several hot days, resulting in only minor changes to the drought depiction. There were some improvements noted in a few areas, including Texas' northern panhandle.
On July 27, USDA reported that subsoil moisture was rated 65% very short to short in both Oklahoma and Texas, Rippey said. Rangeland and pastures have exhibited some recovery and are currently rated just 24% very poor to poor in Texas, along with 20% in Kansas and 19% in Oklahoma.
Robust monsoon rains during the Drought Monitor period chiseled away at long-term drought. Some of the greatest improvements in the drought depiction were noted across New Mexico and southern Arizona, Rippey said.
Through July 29, month-to-date rainfall has totaled more than twice normal in several New Mexico locations. Still, New Mexico's rangeland and pastures were rated 65% very poor to poor on July 27, slightly worse than the late-July, five-year average of 62%.
Conditions are not appreciably better in northern California than in central and southern sections of the state, Rippey said, warranting a further expansion of exceptional drought into northern California.
California's topsoil moisture is at 80% very short to short and subsoil moisture is at 85%, indicating reserves are nearly depleted. The state's rangeland and pastures were rated 70% very poor to poor on July 27.
"USDA reported that 'range and non-irrigated pasture conditions continued to deteriorate' and that 'supplemental feeding of hay and nutrients continued as range quality declined,'" Rippey noted.
Source: Brad Rippey, U.S. Drought Monitor