Drought

(Adam Allington/St. Louis Public Radio)

Drought conditions across portions of Missouri are having both a positive and negative effect on crops grown in the Show-Me State.

The lack of rain over much of Missouri has not harmed the state's corn crop and is enabling farmers to get heavy equipment into the fields for harvest.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: When Pat Mulroy, the general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, presented a resource plan to her board in 2000, it showed a half century of clear sailing ahead.

Then Mother Nature intervened.

NOAA

Drought conditions have grown in portions of Missouri over the past few weeks, and according to the latest forecast are set to persist through the rest of the year.

The long-range seasonal outlook released Thursday calls for drought conditions in northern Missouri to remain in place and possibly intensify through the end of the year.  Brian Fuchs is with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He says this week's rainfall may bring short-term relief, but not long-term.

Nat. Drought Mitigation Ctr., Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Drought conditions are again plaguing the northern half of Missouri, according to the latest U.S. drought monitor report.

A large portion of north central Missouri is experiencing severe drought (D2), with most of the rest of northern Missouri in moderate drought (D1).  Also, there's a strip of land stretching from St. Louis to Kansas City to northwest of St. Joseph that's classified as abnormally dry (D0), just one step below drought.  Anthony Artusa is with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center at the University of Maryland.

Nat. Drought Mitigation Ctr., Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Missouri's overall drought picture is vastly improved this summer over what it was during last year's extreme heat and dry conditions.

Still, drought remains an immediate threat to portions of the Show-Me State. Mark Fuchs is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in St. Louis.

File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

The heavy rains that caused flooding across portions of Missouri this spring have also led to improved soil conditions for crops grown in the Show-Me State.

The exceptionally-wet spring did cause delays in getting corn, cotton and soybeans in the ground.  But Bob Garino, Missouri Statistician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) state office in Columbia, says conditions are much better than a year ago when 2012's drought and heat wave began to take hold.

As Chris Webber checked the 40 acres of muddy field he wanted to plant on a recent morning, he worried about getting more rain, even as he worried about the lack of it.

"The drought is over at the moment," he says. "But in Missouri, we tend to say that in 10 days or two weeks, we can be in a drought again. That's how fast it can get back to dry."

Enyart, Durbin Push Bills To Aid Shipping Industry

Mar 14, 2013
via Flickr/TeamSaintLouis (Army Corps of Engineers)

A pair of bills related to transportation on the inland waterways was introduced in the US House and Senate on Thursday.

Illinois Congressman Bill Enyart introduced his first piece of legislation since being sworn into office last January—the Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act.

Enyart says the bill would give the Army Corps of Engineers authority that it doesn’t currently have, to conduct operations outside of the barge channel.

Two rapid-fire snowstorms belted Kansas with more than 2 feet of snow this week. They caused thousands of accidents and all kinds of hardships — but they also produced very broad smiles from some quarters.

That's because in a place as dry as Kansas has been lately, a blizzard can be a blessing for farmers and ranchers.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

What a difference just a few weeks makes. 

Earlier this year shippers feared that the worst drought in decades would slam the brakes on the billion dollar barge shipping industry, but recent heavy rains and snow have raised water levels on the drought starved Mississippi River.    

Even though shippers are back to carrying normal loads, American Waterways Operators spokeswoman Ann McCulluh says the industry remains anxious about the future.

“You can bet that we will be watching the forecast, watching the water levels very carefully,” McCulluh said.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

The winter storm that dumped several inches of snow and ice across much of Missouri may bring some short-term relief to the state’s drought conditions.

Kelly Smith is Director of Marketing and Commodities for the Missouri Farm Bureau.  He says the winter storm arrived on the heels of recent rain events, helping saturate the soil.

“This snow is gonna slowly melt into the ground," Smith said.  "We will get some runoff from it in some areas because they got a 10 to 13-inch snow…we had areas in our state as high as 13, maybe even 15, inches up in north of (the) Kansas City area.”

University of Missouri

The 2012 drought was among the most extreme the country has seen in recent memory, including the hottest July on record.

Climate scientists at the University of Missouri are predicting that the coming summer will be dry, but not as bad as last year.

Anthony Lupo is chair of the Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences.  His methodology is based on historical patterns and statistics, not on week-to-week forecasts.

Lupo’s prediction for the coming summer offers some good news.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

It seems like we’re constantly hearing about how the worst drought in decades is threatening barge shipping on the Mississippi River. 

One day we’re facing a shutdown, the next day they say commerce will keep rolling on the river.  

Here’s the latest: The Army Corp of Engineers says it’s done enough work to keep the waterway open until the end of this month.   

After that, though, no one is making any promises, and that uncertainty is giving the shipping industry a lingering headache and could end up with local companies cutting jobs.   

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

The worst U.S. drought in decades sizzled farmland last year and cost Illinois its spot as the nation's second-biggest corn producer.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report on 2012 crops shows that Illinois slumped to fourth among corn-producing states. It was overtaken by Minnesota and Nebraska, while Iowa still heads the pack.

The USDA says Illinois farmers produced 1.3 billion bushels of corn in 2012. That's down from 1.9 billion bushels each of the previous two years.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

The ongoing drought  has prompted the United States Department of Agriculture to designate 63 Missouri counties as disaster areas or eligible for disaster assistance.

The designation makes farmers and ranchers in those counties eligible for certain types of aid to help them recover from drought-related losses and damages.

Several counties in the St. Louis Public Radio listening area have been named as "primary disaster areas," including:

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The worst drought in decades has slowly eviscerated the mighty Mississippi River. 

Monday morning both U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and freshly sworn in U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Belleville) got a firsthand look at work being done to keep the waterway commercially viable to shippers.

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Updated at 2:20 pm with comments from Gov. Jay Nixon.

Federal officials say they're confident that they'll be able to keep a crucial stretch of the drought-starved Mississippi River open to barge traffic and avoid a shipping shutdown that the industry fears is imminent.

This year's drought delivered a pricey punch to US aquaculture, the business of raising fish like bass and catfish for food. Worldwide, aquaculture has grown into a $119 billion industry, but the lack of water and high temperatures in 2012 hurt many U.S. fish farmers who were already struggling to compete on a global scale.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The barge industry again raised concerns Wednesday about the impact low water levels on the Mississippi River will have on shipping.

According to a new report from American Waterways Operators, low water could affect more than 8,000 jobs along the river. The group's spokeswoman, Ann McCulloch, says the situation isn't expected to improve any time soon.

"We're definitely worried about the immediate impact if commerce is severely impaired," said McCulloch.  "We're at that stage already and at this point it can only get worse."

via Flickr/TeamSaintLouis (Army Corps of Engineers)

Updated 3:13 p.m. Dec. 28

The Mississippi River's water level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warn that river commerce could essentially come to a halt by mid-January.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports ice on the northern section of the Mississippi is reducing flow more than expected.

Despite that fact, the Coast Guard remains confident that the nation's largest waterway will remain open.

Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois politicians and business leaders met in Alton on Monday to discuss ongoing efforts to keep shipping open on the drought-stricken Mississippi River.

The meeting coincides with work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove rock formations from the riverbed just south of Cape Girardeau.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin called the drought situation “a historic challenge," saying that additional measures may have to be taken to keep commerce functioning.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The Army Corps of Engineers has started releasing more water from Carlyle Lake in Illinois to help keep barges moving along the Mississippi River.

Army Corps of Engineers Spokesman Mike Peterson says they had a pretty good idea this summer’s brutal drought would cause big shipping problems in the fall and winter.

So, they held back water in Carlyle Lake, which is a little over 50 miles east of St. Louis, because it's one of the region's few reservoirs with a little extra water from rain.  

(via NASA/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab)

An updated Mississippi River forecast is predicting that  low-water levels will likely linger throughout the winter.  The forecast exacerbates concerns that shipping may be impacted along a key stretch near St. Louis.

The latest outlook by National Weather Service Hydrologist Mark Fuchs shows that without significant rain, the river at St. Louis will likely fall to dangerously low levels by the end of December

(via Flickr/pasa47)

Politicians across the Midwest are continuing to press the President to declare a state of emergency on the Mississippi River to allow barge traffic to keep flowing.

Every year roughly $180 billion worth of freight makes its way up and down the river.

Now, a record shortage of water on the nation’s major inland waterways is expected to put upward pressure on everything from food items to electricity.

The drought effect

Nation's Drought Gets Worse

Nov 21, 2012
(Map courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center)

A new report shows that the nation's worst drought in decades is getting worse again, ending an encouraging five-week run of improving conditions.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that 60.1 percent of the continental U.S. was in some form of drought as of Tuesday. That's up from 58.8 percent the previous week. The portion of the lower 48 states in extreme or exceptional drought - the two worst classifications - also rose, to 19.04 percent from last week's 18.3 percent.

Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

Businesses that work and ship on the Mississippi River are seeking a presidential declaration keep water flowing out of reservoirs on the Missouri River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closes dams in South Dakota at this time every year to store water to maintain levels later in the spring and summer.

The Missouri River accounts for roughly 60 percent of the water flowing by St. Louis. In a drought-year like this year, George Foster of St. Louis’ J.B. Marine says reducing river levels would risk closing the shipping channel.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

Updated 12:29 p.m.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the barge industry are imploring the federal government to keep water flowing on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers or face potential "economic disaster."

The drought has left many waterways at historic lows. Nixon sent a letter Friday urging the Army Corps of Engineers to rethink plans to reduce the amount of water released from the Missouri's upstream reservoir. That would also reduce flow on the Mississippi below St. Louis.

Mo. Dept. of Conservation

This summer’s devastating drought and heat wave actually benefited some of Missouri’s native birds, in particular the bobwhite quail.

Bobwhite quail build their nests on the ground, and the hot and dry weather from both this summer and last provided better conditions for incubation.  Max Alleger is a wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).  He says the bobwhite quail population took a big hit in 2008 due to record-setting rainfall, as it was hard for them to keep their eggs warm on wet ground.

National Drought Mitigation Center, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Missouri’s overall drought picture remains dry, although there is some slight improvement in portions of the Show-Me State.

The latest map shows the drought still covering the entire state, and most of it in the severe category – although three pockets of land where drought conditions are only moderate have grown slightly larger over the past two weeks.  Those pockets are located in northeast, east-central and southwest Missouri.  Mark Svoboda is a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

After one of the driest summers on record, recent rains have helped in some parts of the country. But overall, the drought has still intensified. The latest tracking classifies more than a fifth of the contiguous United States in "extreme or exceptional" drought, the worst ratings.

In some parts of the Lower Midwest, water-starved crops have collapsed, but the farmers have not. Farmers across the country are surviving, and many are even thriving. This year, despite the dismal season, farmers stand to make exceptionally good money, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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