The ongoing drought, which began in 2011 and expanded dramatically in March of last year, will probably continue well into summer before we have much hope of relief. Here in northern Missouri, we’re having a repeat of the mild weather we experienced last winter, and while that makes travel less treacherous, it is giving local farmers cause for concern. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported, “Much of the U.S. is still desperate for relief from the nation’s longest dry spell in decades. And experts say it will take an absurd amount of snow to ease the woes of farmers and ranchers.” Some climatologists are saying that, considering a foot of snow only equates to about an inch of water, it would take at least eight feet of the white stuff to return the soil to pre-drought conditions in time for spring planting.
Unfortunately, climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln predict that dry conditions will probably continue throughout this winter season. And although the continuing drought seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, the climatologist who authors the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor calls it a ‘flash drought.’ “We usually tell people that drought is a slow-moving natural disaster,” explains Mark Svoboda. “But this year was more of a flash drought...The impacts came on in a matter of weeks instead of over several months.”
Drought Monitor climatologist Brian Fuchs calls the confluence of dry weather and thirsty flora the ‘perfect storm:’ “A mild winter without much precipitation and early green-up means plants are using moisture a month or more earlier than usual.” And because the outlook for the winter wheat crop isn’t good, livestock producers are finding that providing sufficient feed for their animals is a real challenge. We will undoubtedly see higher prices for meat and dairy products as a result. We may also have a repeat of the low yields of soybeans and corn that occurred last year, with growers once again resorting to repeated plantings, particularly with regard to corn.
The Missouri Drought Plan, formulated in 2002 by the Missouri Dept. of Resources (DNR), acknowledges that Linn County is located in an area of highest susceptibility to drought, and that agricultural producers are “usually the first to feel the effects of drought.” Because most of northern Missouri is “underlain by rocks that contain water that is generally too mineralized for most uses,” the primary source of our drinking water is ‘glacial drift.’ Although glacial drift can yield anywhere from less than a gallon of potable water per minute to 500 gallons per minute, the average yield is “probably less than five gallons per minute.”