Saturday, July 23, 2011

Impacts of massive US drought felt far and wide

Candace Krebs in the Ag Journal: .... Texas and parts of Oklahoma are coming off the hottest June ever on record, ravaged by unrelenting sun and a severe lack of moisture. As the season wears on, the heat and earth-cracking dryness has migrated north and west. Drought in eastern Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley is now ranked as exceptional on the U.S. Drought Monitor map, though some possible improvement is expected over the next couple of months based on long-term forecasts.

...As if ranchers didn’t have enough to worry about — with high corn costs, continual changes in the political and regulatory atmosphere, consolidation of markets — hot dry weather is reeking havoc across a 373,000-mile swath of the Southern Plains, equivalent to roughly 12 percent of the nation’s lower 48 land mass. It’s the largest area of drought depicted since climate specialists began issuing the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2000.

...Drought contributes to extreme heat, which compounds the problems for crops and livestock. The January-to-June period was the driest ever on record in New Mexico, Texas and western Oklahoma, setting them up for blazing summer temperatures. Wildfires nationwide have consumed 4.8 million acres so far in 2011, more than double the normal average.

The extended period of heat is proving lethal to livestock and threatening the quality of drinking water and forage, which can become contaminated with high nitrates or other toxins. It is preventing many ranchers from growing or even just maintaining the size of their herds. Business at sale barns throughout the South is brisk; Oklahoma National Stockyards, for example, is reporting sales numbers for July double those of a year ago.

Now Climate Prediction Center models are hinting at a possible return of La Nina this fall. Some say such a scenario could create the worst drought ever in recorded history....

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