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January rains offer optimism for easing Missouri drought

Sunday, February 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The drought has ended in parts of Missouri and rainfall in January shows promise for an easing of conditions in Boone County, according to an MU climatologist.

One finding in a weather impact study for January published by climatologist and MU professor Patrick Guinan was promising: Missouri's monthly precipitation average in January was 3.48 inches, 1.36 inches higher than average. This month's average is the first to rise more than one inch above the normal since December 2011. 

Guinan's report said rainfall totals were highest in southeast Missouri and lowest in northwest counties. At Columbia Regional Airport, rainfall from Jan. 1 through Friday totaled 2.67 inches — 0.27 inches above average.

The U.S. Drought Monitor issued Thursday showed improving conditions in parts of Missouri. Southeast Missouri was classified drought free, with St. Louis and east-central Missouri abnormally dry. Boone County was still divided between severe drought conditions in the south and moderate drought in the north.

On Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center issued its drought outlook for the U.S. through April 30 that puts Central Missouri in an area of ongoing drought with some improvement. In western Missouri, drought conditions were forecast to persist or intensify.

Guinan called 2012 a flash drought. In addition to lack of rainfall, a combination of high temperature, low humidity and full sunshine days aggravated the impact on the growing season. 

The signs are promising for a dwindling drought, but Guinan said it's impossible to forecast at this time whether Missouri will experience another widespread drought in the 2013 growing season.

"Extended dry and wet patterns can change abruptly and there are numerous occasions, both in temp and precipitation, where Missouri transitioned from one extreme to another in a short period of time," Guinan wrote in his most recent climate summary. "In a nutshell, no one anticipated the severity and magnitude of the 2012 drought and, similarly, no one knows what 2013 will bring."

The most valuable crops in Missouri are corn and soybeans, which have a growing range from early April to September. MU plant sciences professor Bill Wiebold said corn crops are most vulnerable to weather in June to July and July to August for soybeans.

Wiebold, however, said he wasn't worried at this point about making up for last year. What's most important, he said, are spring rains and regular rains during the growing season, especially in the clay-pan soils that start in central Missouri and run to northeast Missouri and keep roots shallow.

In Missouri, 46.2 percent of the corn crop was lost in 2012 — the highest percentage in 60 years. Soybean losses last year were the third worst in 60 years at 30.9 percent.

Billy Thiel, a corn and soybean grower in Marshall and member of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said he lost half of his corn to the drought last year.

On Friday, Thiel said he wasn't worried about soil moisture headed into this year's growing, and he said other growers aren't either. He's applied fertilizer, finished the tillage and other dirt work in anticipation of planting. Having crop insurance helped offset his loss, but he sees droughts as an inevitable part of nature's cycle.


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