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2013 Iowa Drought Outlook

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Right now the 2013 Iowa drought outlook seems to show some relief coming to us.  I hate to be really optimistic at this point because its also coming at the same time we experience our wettest conditions for the year.  July and August could be a different story.  That said I think its always best to assume that current conditions will play forward.  I say thing same thing during the drought, whatever the current pattern is, its likely to continue.  I agree, its a safe bet, its not scientific and maybe based a bit more on common sense.  For any of you that follow me on Facebook you know I like to talk about the weather and that I follow it pretty closely.  Heck come Tuesday I almost can’t wait for the new Iowa Drought Monitor to be released on Thursday.

Here is a moving graphic of drought conditions in Iowa for the last 6 weeks.  What a big difference just the last 6 weeks have made.  We are coming out of the 4th coldest March on record and the 8th snowiest March on record.  That patter is what I refer to above.  It doesn’t mean we are out of the woods and the drought is over.  You’ve heard the old farmers saying “At any given time we are only two weeks from a drought”  A new generation has learned over the last 18 months just how precious that wet stuff from the sky is.  The drought of 2012 was the worse since 1956 in Iowa but still not as bad as the droughts of the 1930’s.  This weeks drought monitor shows the first bit of Iowa back to “normal” precipitation levels, but that does not necessarily mean that the enviromental impacts have been fully erased yet.  Low ponds, dry creeks and lower than normal soil moisture can still be occurring in those parts marked white now.  You can see a larger version of the current Iowa graphic below.

2013 Iowa drought outlook

Click to see the longer 12 week version of the Drought Monitor graphic

In the graphic above its easy to see the eastern edge of the drought receeding west.  The 12 week graphic shows it even better.  As you can see in the graphic southeast Iowa has returned to white.  White or “normal” in the state represents 6.78% of the state, last year at this time 61.22% of the state was at the normal level.  Coincidentally southeast Iowa was also the last portion of the state to achieve a drought status.  First in and first out which is bad news for the western most parts of Iowa which were the first into drought designations and because the pattern has been that the drought is subsiding from east to west.  The drought entered the state from the west progressing east across the state.  This essentially means that far western Iowa will endure the impacts for a longer period of time.

Iowa drought monitor

In January 2013 the entire state of Iowa was in “Severe” designation while about 30% was in “Extreme” drought and a small portion of about 5% was in “Exceptional” drought.  Today 21.37% is in “Exceptional” status which is north central Iowa into central Iowa.  A large portion of Iowa remains in the “Severe” catagory 47.66% while 74.93% is in “Moderate” drought and 93.22% is abnormally dry.  I realize if you add those numbers up you get more than 100% and the reason is that each percent is included in the lower catagories below it.  For example if an acre is classified as Exceptional drought status, its also counted in the Severe, Moderate and Abnormally Dry statuses below it.

The US Seasonal Drought Outlook also shows improvment across most of Iowa through June in their latest report releases March 21, 2013. You can see that along the Missouri River up into the far northwest corner of Iowa remains in the ongoing with improvement portion of this graphic.  Depending on just how close their lines are and how accurate their predictions are this leaves Lyon, Sioux, Plymouth, Woodbury, Monona and parts of Harrison and Pottawattamie left to suffer some drought impacts in 2013.  The chart is a prediction so that line may look very different when the times comes and goes.

US Seasonal drought outlook

So, while I’m not a meterologist and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn last night I’m confident saying that at least in the short term our drought designation is likely to fade and the enviromental impacts are likely to improve because thats the current pattern.  Its encouraging but it doesn’t mean that 2013 won’t be a drought year again.  Its easy to get a few rains and call it over but is prudent to be a bit more realistic that we could be getting lucky for a short period and we’ve got a lot of warm weather ahead of us.  Some meteorologist have called for the drought to extend through 2013 and they very well may be right, but to a common person that likes to pay attention to the weather our current pattern says we may be approaching the end of this thing.

What does this mean for 2013 farmland prices?  Nothing… we learned that last year, remember how amazed the national media was that even in a drought year Iowa farmland appreciated?  Farmland prices are not tied to at least a short term drought, but they are tied to commodity prices.  Could a bin buster crop in 2013 affect land prices?  Yes, in short good weather may be bad for land prices in 2013.  Hard to believe that a drought will improve land prices and a bin buster year would them but thats the truth folks, and yes the media will be amazed again.  60% chance of rain the day after tomorrow and another 3 days after that again.  The pattern is improving.