LINCOLN — Sequels rarely turn out better than the original, and drought appears to be no exception.
As Nebraska heads into a second year of drought, agriculture and climate experts say conditions will deteriorate more rapidly this year than last year if hot, dry weather hits before substantial rains fall.
Last year was bad enough, so it's hard to picture worse. The drought caused record wildfires, water restrictions in about 80 communities, withered dryland crops and pastures unable to sustain normal cattle numbers.
Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, said the state is poised for another tough year because the 2012 drought depleted soil moisture and lowered reservoirs and streams.
Even normal rains won't be enough to avert problems, Svoboda said, because the soil is simply too dry to recover to the point that it can sustain thirsty crops through hot summer weather.
Svoboda and other climate and ag experts briefed each other and state officials Monday at the first 2013 meeting of the Nebraska Climate Assessment Response Committee.
The committee — or “drought task force,” as it is commonly known — received little good news at the session:
» An uncertain farm bill makes it hard for farmers to know what drought mitigation steps make the most sense financially.
» Below-normal water content in the snows that feed the North and South Platte Rivers means little relief from that important source of water.
» Colorado and Wyoming are in drought, too, so any improved runoff in the upper Platte watershed will be consumed by dry soils and low reservoirs in those states before it could have a chance of reaching Nebraska.
» Rainfall and snowfall this fall and winter are 30 percent to 50 percent behind normal in some areas of the state.
» About half of Nebraska's winter wheat is rated poor to very poor.
» Reservoir and stream levels are likely to continue declining, even with normal precipitation; some streams are nearing record lows at a time when they should be rising.
» More communities are likely to have problems providing water to residents.
» Tree damage, already extensive, is likely to worsen.
» Nebraska hay stocks are their lowest since 1957.
Among the steps taken in response to the situation, the state has determined which communities are most at risk for water problems and is offering advice. Some farmers are considering more drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum. And the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension is focusing outreach programs on drought education.
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