Dry Weather Develops into Drought Scenario for Southeast Colorado



The southeast Colorado Plains experienced a generally warm and dry January and February. This, coupled with similar weather for March to date has prompted the US Drought Monitor to introduce moderate drought (D1) conditions across portions of the far southeast Colorado Plains.  Abnormally dry (D0) conditions have also expanded westear4d across the rest of the southeast Plains and southern portions of south-central Colorado.

The latest US Drought Monitor issued March 24, 2016 is indicating moderate drought (d1) conditions across most of Baca County, extreme southeastern Bent County and southern portions of Prowers County. Abnormally dry (D0) conditions remain across the rest of Baca, Bent and Prowers Counties as well as Kiowa County, Crowley County and Otero County.  Drought free conditions are indicated across the rest of south-central and southeast Colorado.

Southern and Central Plains

Development of short-term dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) became more apparent across portions of the central and southern Plains, especially when windy weather resulted in a sharp increase in grassfires and blowing dust on March 22-23. A particularly severe wildfire flared in Woods County, Oklahoma, on March 22, later racing into neighboring Kansas. During the fire’s resurgence on March 23, aided by wind gusts above 60 mph, a large plume of smoke—easily visible on satellite imagery—raced northward across central Kansas.

According to USDA, nearly half of the topsoil moisture was rated very short to short on March 20 in Kansas (46%) and Oklahoma (43%). A week ago, on March 13, topsoil moisture was just 37% very short to short in Kansas. Still, the majority of the winter wheat crop was rated in good to excellent condition on March 20 in Oklahoma (63%) and Kansas (57%). The Texas winter wheat crop was rated 47% good to excellent on the 20th.

Complicating matters for winter wheat is that a significant freeze struck portions of the central and southern High Plains on March 20, with low temperatures ranging from 5 to 20°F in some of the coldest locations in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and northern Texas. Ultimately, it may be difficult to determine whether damage, if any, to the winter wheat crop was caused by freeze injury or by drought. The freeze was immediately followed by a warm, windy spell; Garden City, Kansas, reported a high of 88°F on March 22, just 2 days after a daily-record low of 10°F.

Unless significant precipitation occurs soon, a much broader area of the central and southern Plains, extending eastward into the middle Mississippi Valley, may be ripe for expansion of dryness and drought during the next few weeks. Many of these areas received extremely heavy precipitation as recently as late December, and the landscape still retains a “memory” of this rain in the form of subsoil moisture and streamflow that has only recently begun to diminish.

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