Drought Relief Update: Recent weather events have been a blessing and a curse for U.S. producers

The latest Drought Monitor was just released this morning and it shows that there have been some drastic improvements for farmers in the western U.S.

California has been hit especially hard with heavy rains, in some areas totaling to more than four inches. Meteorologists are hoping these past two weather events for the area could be a drought buster for the nation’s top ag-producing state.

The rest of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest, and the lower Mississippi Valley also received precipitation, meaning improvement was much more common this week.

More rainfall is expected across the West Coast, particularly in California in the coming weeks.
The waves of heavy rain are caused, by what meteorologists call, atmospheric rivers. Despite years of western drought, this weather event can be a blessing and a curse.

USDA’s Brad Rippey explains more about them and how they are impacting ag operations in northern and central California. “An atmospheric river event is described as a mid to upper-level flow of moisture, originating typically over the central Pacific Ocean and moving eastward or northeastward into the west coast of North America. In this case, we have seen pretty much the exact same location in northern and central California targeted time after time with these five individual storm systems or atmospheric river events, and that has led to not only considerable drought relief but also some short-term impacts that are not as positive, including flash flooding, mudslides, debris flows, and more. Recently, as we’ve seen soils becoming saturated, we’re seeing a transition away from some of the flash flood concerns moving into more of the river flooding concerns,” he states.

He adds that as the month goes on, this system will begin to shift northward, into parts of Washington, Oregon, and the northern Rockies.

While the spotlight is on California, there has been an abundance of moisture in other parts of the country that could have both good and bad effects on ag.
A professor at the University of Minnesota says that almost 35 inches of snow have fallen in the state since November, a fast melt could result in runoff and even the potential for flooding on farms, or the moisture could mean good things moving into spring planting.

Dr. Jeff Strock says that it could refill at least some of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and waterways: “If we get a fast thaw, a lot of that water from the snow could basically run off and recharge some sloughs and rivers and fill those back up.”

He notes that it is still early in the snow season, and should Minnesota see 20-30 additional inches by March or April, it could be a very different story.