The dry winter has the central United States, including Nebraska and Iowa, stuck in a holding pattern when it comes to drought.
The good news is that it's winter, when a lack of rain and snow is less consequential because:
• The ground is frozen and plants aren't using up lots of water.
• Plants aren't growing so that they pull lots of water from the ground.
• This is the driest time of year anyway, so total deficits are growing but not rapidly.
Omaha, for example, is 1.22 inches behind on moisture for December and January, having received 0.31 inches through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
North Platte is 0.42 inches below normal since the start of December, having received 0.38 inches through Wednesday.
If these dry conditions persist into spring, then worries will quickly mount for farmers and ranchers.
On Thursday, the National Drought Mitigation Center released its weekly map of drought conditions across the country.
Not surprisingly, most of Nebraska and Iowa is in drought or near drought. Of the two states, northeast Iowa is in the best shape, having benefited from upper Midwest snows.
Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, said rain and snow are needed, but the key will be timing.
It will be important to receive snow and rain in late winter-early spring when the ground begins thawing. At that point, the soil will be able to absorb the moisture. Until then, snow and rain is likely to evaporate or wash into area creeks and streams.
“We could miss out on February moisture and go into March and get adequate moisture, (then) we'd be fine,” he said.
Fuchs said the dry winter has reduced the winter wheat crop, sparked grass fires and contributed to highway accidents by churning up dust storms that lowered visibility.
For more information, check out the Drought Monitor archives.