LINCOLN — Nebraska has become the epicenter for the U.S. drought as conditions improve elsewhere and deteriorate in the Central Plains.
About 70 percent of Nebraska is in the worst possible category of drought, with the next closest state being Kansas, at about 60 percent.
Drought has intensified in Nebraska and the Central Plains because the region has missed out on the rains that have alleviated conditions elsewhere, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. That includes rains from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.
“Nebraska just hasn't seen any relief,” said Mike Hayes, director of the drought center. “It's a matter of timing, and this year the timing hasn't been good. That's why a lot of the talk is about next year.”
The worst category is exceptional drought — indicating widespread crop and pasture losses and water shortages.
It's hard to come up with good news about the situation. But State Climatologist Al Dutcher did his best Friday at a meeting of Nebraska's drought task force.
“Our crops have been destroyed for the most part,” Dutcher told the assembled state and federal officials and scientists. “They gave up the ghost about 30 days early, if you want to put a positive spin on it.”
So the good news is that with an early end to the growing season, parched soils now have an extra month to be replenished by rain rather than see the moisture consumed by crops.
Normally the recharge season doesn't start until October.
Most of the talk at the Climate Assessment Response Committee was about next year. Bad as this year is, conditions will be worse next year if the drought continues; that's because the state entered this growing season in reasonably good shape.
Dutcher said the state has a shot at improvement in moisture over the winter and spring, given that an El Niño climate pattern is developing in the Pacific Ocean. In a classic El Niño, the Southern United States receives more moisture than normal, and that could have spillover benefits in Nebraska.
“It does give us a semblance of hope,” he said. “I'm trying to be positive.”
However, even that's not a given. A developing El Niño is simply a much better scenario than the opposite, a developing La Niña, which tends to encourage drought conditions.
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