Water from the sky.
The best storm in more than a year soaked Nebraska this week, easing — at least temporarily — the drought's grip, said Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist.
“This was a very important storm system,” Dutcher said. “That's the big takeaway.”
Enough water has soaked into the upper layers of soil that crops will be able to germinate and get off to a good start, Dutcher said.
More rain is needed to replenish deeper soil levels if crops are to survive hot, dry spells this summer, he said.
Most of the state received at least 1 inch of moisture from the storm, many areas received 2 inches and some places got more than 4 inches.
The improvement can be seen in the weekly update of drought conditions published in the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Nebraska led the nation this week in improved conditions. It also was the first week since August that the majority of Nebraska wasn't in the worst possible drought condition.
Last week, three-fourths of the state was classified as being in exceptional drought, the worst category. This week, about 15 percent of Nebraska is considered in exceptional drought.
Iowa has improved faster than Nebraska because it has benefited from several storms this year.
About 30 percent of Iowa no longer is in drought, while all of Nebraska remains in some level of drought, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly update of conditions published by the National Drought Mitigation Center.
“Even though it's improved, it's still an exceptionally bad situation'' in Nebraska, Dutcher said.
Another beneficial aspect of the weather has been the cooler-than-normal start to spring, said Dutcher and Natalie Umphlett, regional climatologist at the High Plains Regional Climate Center.
Plants have been slow to green up, which is allowing the rain and snow to soak into the soil rather than be consumed by growing plants, they said.
Farmers have yet to plant corn and soybeans, so any rain that falls in the next couple of weeks will continue to replenish soil moisture levels rather than feed crops, Dutcher said.
“It's going to be at least mid-May, if not the third week of May, before corn requires more moisture than typically falls in a given day,” Dutcher said. “This gives us more flexibility, building up soil moisture more.”
But there's a downside to the slow green-up of pastures, Dutcher said.
Ranchers were hit hard by the drought because replacing lost pastures with purchased feed was costly. They need healthy spring growth in pastures both to rejuvenate those fields and to feed cattle.
“Feed costs are excessive,” Dutcher said. “The availability of good grass for pastures is going to be pushed back well into May. We may see further liquidations of herds because there's not adequate forage.”
Of long-term concern are depleted streams and reservoirs. Umphlett said the below-normal snowpack in the Rocky Mountains means there will be less water flowing into the Platte River, which in turn lessens the amount available for irrigation.
Snowpack in Wyoming is running 77 percent of average and in Colorado it's running 73 percent of normal, she said.
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