An issue remains with moisture 'underneath,' though rains improve drought situation for the moment

Wheeler said the deep moisture profile, deep in the soil, is what the U.S. Drought Monitor measures, along with other drought indicators like the levels of reservoirs and lakes.

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On the U.S. Drought Monitor released Oct. 14, reflecting conditions Oct. 12, the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest still indicated "a lot of bright red," StormTRACKER meteorologist John Wheeler said, referring to the portions of the area in severe, extreme and exceptional drought .

"How do you explain that with fields as wet as they are?"

Answering his own question, Wheeler said the deep moisture profile, deep in the soil, is what the U.S. Drought Monitor measures, along with other drought indicators like the levels of reservoirs and lakes.

"Underneath, there still is an issue with moisture," he said.

But on top, recent rainfall has made things wet, and it's likely that conditions will stay wet through the ground freezing. Wheeler said that could be a spring flooding issue if the region were to get a deep snow pack, something that is too far away to predict.


In any case, the eastern Dakotas, western Minnesota and northern Iowa have seen a big change in the past couple months that have eased drought conditions. Wheeler said looking at soil moisture changes, southern Iowa through Texas and east to the Carolinas looks like the next possible spot for a drought in the U.S., along with the western U.S., which hasn't seen as much improvement as the Northern Plains.

Following the recent rains, the second half of October is expected to be fairly dry, as well as 5 to 10 degrees warmer than normal. Wheeler said he's "not promising that will last all winter, but it is looking mild for now."

And for the time being, bountiful rains have "erased" the immediate need for rainfall in much of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, he said. This will be Wheeler's last weekly Drought Monitor update for the fall. Occasional updates may come in the winter.

"There are some signs that this mild, dry weather will not last through the winter," he said.

Here's a state-by-state look at this week's U.S. Drought Monitor:

Iowa: Severe drought in Iowa shrunk from 19.83% last week to 14.05% this week, and moderate drought also decreased slightly, from 32.27% to 31.23%. Abnormally dry conditions spread in western Iowa due to low soil moisture, above-normal temperatures and the area missing out on precipitation this week, the Drought Monitor said.

Minnesota: Conditions continue to improve in Minnesota, as extreme drought decreased from 17.58% last week to 15.61% this week, and severe drought went from 30.74% to 26.88%. The portion of the state with no drought conditions increased from 9.8% to 11.79%.

Montana: Montana continues to dry out, in contrast to the rest of the region. Exceptional drought climbed .01% to 21.92%. Extreme drought jumped from 47.35% to 52.11%. The entire state is in severe drought or worse. The Drought Monitor blamed the worsening situation on above-normal temperatures and high evaporative demand.


Nebraska: Not a lot changed in Nebraska this week, though extreme drought climbed from 2.13% to 3.58%. Severe and moderate drought dropped a little each, while abnormally dry conditions increased from 38.1% to 40.43%. The percentage of the state with no drought conditions dropped from 21.77% to 18.9%. According to the Drought Monitor, some parts of the state have seen drastic deterioration in topsoil moisture in recent weeks.

North Dakota: Conditions continue to improve in North Dakota, once the epicenter of the Northern Plains drought. Thanks to rain the weekend of Oct. 9-10, extreme drought dropped from 58.17% to 45.88% and severe drought from 29.62% to 28.14%. While 99.68% of the state remains abnormally dry or worse, only 89.98% is in moderate drought or worse, compared to 99.65% last week. A sliver of the state at the Montana border, 0.43%, remains in exceptional drought.

South Dakota: Severe drought in South Dakota dropped from 11.62% last week to 9.82% this week, and moderate drought dropped from 48.39% to 37.43%. Much of that land went into moderate drought, which went from 19.99% last week to 29.32% this week. The portion of South Dakota not in any drought conditions increased from 8.33% to 10.97%.

Wisconsin: While Wisconsin saw overall improvement in drought conditions, with the small percentage of the state previously in extreme drought dropping to 0 and the percentage in severe drought going from 5.34% last week to 2.2% this week, the Drought Monitor warns of possible changing conditions. Short-term dryness and above-normal temperatures in central Wisconsin, with the Standardized Precipitation Index trending drier over the past 30-90 days, mean "precipitation deficits are starting to mount." Still, 56.14% of the state remains out of drought conditions.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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