US drought developments, July 2012

(News & Editorial/ US drought developments, July 2012)

1.  UPDATE 4-Midwest drought slashes US corn estimate, jolts market
Pasted from <>
Wed., Jul 11, 2012,  Reuters, By Charles Abbott
* U.S. corn, soy, wheat stocks lower than expected
* USDA cuts corn yield more than trade expected
* Despite drought, third-largest U.S. corn crop
* Traders see more cuts after early August field tours

[Photo at right credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife]

By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) – The worst Midwest drought in
a quarter century is doing more damage to U.S. crops than
previously expected with the government on Wednesday slashing
its estimate for what was supposed to be a record harvest.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the corn crop will
average just 146 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from its June
estimate and a much more dramatic drop than analysts had
The report initially re-ignited a near-record rally in grain
prices that could eventually hit consumer grocery bills in North
America, although the impact could be more immediate for the
world’s poor if the drought persists.
The severe scaling back of the harvest has sent corn and
soybean prices up by more than a third over the past month, as
extreme heat and dry conditions stunt growth in the world’s
largest grower and exporter.

The deep cuts to the supply outlook shocked traders, who had
expected the USDA to be more conservative in adjusting its
views. The chairman of World Agriculture Outlook Board said the
12 percent cut was the largest he could recall.
“They sent a signal of, ‘Listen, we got a serious problem
here’,” said Don Roose, an analyst with U.S. Commodities.
The news for traders softened as the day went on as
profit-taking and forecasts for slightly wetter weather
curtailed gains. After a volatile trading day on the Chicago
Board of Trade, corn futures erased earlier gains of
nearly 3 percent to end 1.9 percent lower.
The USDA cut its corn harvest projection to 12.97 billion
bushels for 2012/13 – still the third largest on record. The
yield would be the lowest since 2003, although still far higher
than the 85 bushels an acre following the drought of 1988.
As a result, USDA reduced its forecast for corn ending
stocks — the amount of grain still in bins at the end of next
summer before the new harvest —  by 37 percent from last month,
more than the 32-percent reduction expected.
At 1.183 billion bushels, U.S. corn stockpiles would still
rise by nearly a third from this year’s ultra-low levels, with
the reduced supply outlook partly offset by downward revisions
to exports and ethanol usage as near-record prices curb
consumption. Separate data showed ethanol output fell last week
for the fourth time, reaching its lowest in two years.
Wheat and soybean stocks were also below expectations.
Soybean yields were cut nearly 8 percent to 40.5 bushels per
acre, the second lowest since 2003, due to the drought.
The USDA cut its forecast for global corn stocks by 14
percent, although inventories will still be the highest in three
The report “tells me they feel pretty confident this crop
has been hurt in a big way,” says Shawn McCambridge, analyst at
Jefferies Bache. Additional cuts are likely, he said, when USDA
makes spot checks of fields as it prepares for an Aug. 10 report
which will make the first estimate of the harvest.

This would be the third year in a row of tight corn
supplies. USDA also reduced its forecast of corn for ethanol by
100 million bushels, or 2 percent, and cut export and livestock
feed forecasts.
Higher feed prices will depress U.S. meat production and cut
into margins for companies like Tyson and Smithfield
with per capita consumption dropping by 1 percent to
200.6 lbs in 2013 because of smaller supplies and higher prices.
Other food prices could be affected as well. Corn, wheat and
soybeans, the three most widely grown U.S. crops, are the raw
ingredients in a panorama of foods from cereals and salad
dressing to scones and cooking oil.
“The immediate view is that crop producers will bear the
brunt of financial losses but losses in animal industries will
be enormous in the coming year, perhaps becoming considerably
greater than for the crop sector,” said Chris Hurt, agricultural
economist at Purdue University, pointing to high feed prices.
China was forecast to import 5 million tonnes of corn in the
marketing year that opens on Sept. 1, down 2 million tonnes from
the USDA’s June forecast as available U.S. supplies shrink.
The USDA also reduced its estimated carryover stocks of
wheat to 664 million bushels and soybeans to 130 million bushels
soybeans, compared with trade expectations of 718 million
bushels of wheat and 141 million bushels of soybeans.
USDA cut its forecast of the wheat crop in Russia by 4
million tonnes due to poor yields, in Kazakhstan by 2 million
tonnes because of hot and dry weather in June, and in China by 2
million tonnes due to lower yields.


2.  Drought Reaches Record 56% of Continental US
5 July 2012,, By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor
Pasted from:

The United States is parched, with more than half of the lower 48 states experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to a report released today (July 5).
Just under 56 percent of the contiguous United States is in drought conditions, the most extensive area in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. The previous drought records occurred on Aug. 26, 2003, when 54.79 percent of the lower 48 were in drought and on Sept 10, 2002, when drought extended across 54.63 percent of this area.

When including the entire nation, the monitor found 46.84 percent of the land area meets criteria for various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent last week. Previous records: 45.87 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a statement. “Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced” in the past 12 years.
The monitor uses a ranking system that goes from D0 (abnormal dryness) to D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3  (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

At the lower end of the scale, moderate drought involves some damage to crops and pastures, and low water levels in streams, reservoirs or wells. Areas in exceptional drought would experience widespread crop and pasture losses and water shortages that lead to water emergencies. Currently, 8.64 percent of the country would meet criteria for either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

“It’s early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching,” he added.

Further into the past, the United States has experienced some really serious droughts, including one in the 1930s, the Dust Bowl drought, and another in the 1950s, each of which lasted five to seven years and covered large swaths of the continental United States. Droughts are one of the most costly weather-related events in terms of economics and loss of life, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Between 1980 and today, 16 drought events cost $210 billion, according to a recent report.

While no single event like this year’s extensive drought can be said to be the result of global warming, scientists say more extreme weather should be expected as the planet warms, according to a report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011. That year, there were 12 $1-billion disasters.

In particular, the report authors predicted that with climate change there would be an increase in certain types of extreme weather, including daily high temperatures, heat waves, heavy precipitation and droughts, in some places.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint endeavor by the National Drought Mitigation Center, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and drought observers across the country.

3. Drought Monitor Shows Record-Breaking Expanse of Drought Across United States
July 5, 2012
, ScienceDaily
“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” said Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center. “Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced in the history of the Drought Monitor.”

The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

Moderate drought’s telltale signs are some damage to crops and pastures, with streams, reservoirs or wells getting low. At the other end of the scale, exceptional drought includes widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies. So far, just 8.64 percent of the country is in either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

“It’s early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint endeavor by the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and drought observers across the country.

To examine the monitor’s current and archived national, regional and state-by-state drought maps and conditions, go to

 4.  Texas Drought Visible in New National Groundwater Maps
Nov. 30, 2011
, ScienceDaily
Pasted from <>

The record-breaking drought in Texas that has fueled wildfires, decimated crops and forced cattle sales has also reduced levels of groundwater in much of the state to the lowest levels seen in more than 60 years, according to new national maps produced by NASA and distributed by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The latest groundwater map, released on Nov. 29, shows large patches of maroon over eastern Texas, indicating severely depressed groundwater levels. The maps, generated weekly by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are publicly available on the Drought Center’s website.

“Texas groundwater will take months or longer to recharge,” said Matt Rodell, a hydrologist based at Goddard. “Even if we have a major rainfall event, most of the water runs off. It takes a longer period of sustained greater-than-average precipitation to recharge aquifers significantly.”

The maps are based on data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, which detect small changes in Earth’s gravity field caused primarily by the redistribution of water on and beneath the land surface. The paired satellites travel about 137 miles (220 km) apart and record small changes in the distance separating them as they encounter variations in Earth’s gravitational field.

To make the maps, scientists used a sophisticated computer model that combines measurements of water storage from GRACE with a long-term meteorological dataset to generate a continuous record of soil moisture and groundwater that stretches back to 1948. GRACE data goes back to 2002. The meteorological data include precipitation, temperature, solar radiation and other ground- and space-based measurements.

The color-coded maps show how much water is stored now as a probability of occurrence in the 63-year record. The maroon shading over eastern Texas, for example, shows that the level of dryness over the last week occurred less than two percent of the time between 1948 and the present.
[Photo at left credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife: Sun-bleached fish scattered along the edges of O.C. Fischer Reservoir]

The groundwater maps aren’t the only maps based on GRACE data that the Drought Center publishes each week. The Drought Center also distributes soil moisture maps that show moisture changes in the root zone down to about 3 feet (1 meter) below the surface, as well as surface soil moisture maps that show changes within the top inch (2 cm) of the land.

“All of these maps offer policymakers new information into subsurface water fluctuations at regional to national scales that has not been available in the past,” said the Drought Center’s Brian Wardlow. The maps provide finer resolution or are more consistently available than other similar sources of information, and having the maps for the three different levels should help decision makers distinguish between short-term and long-term droughts.

“These maps would be impossible to generate using only ground-based observations,” said Rodell. “There are groundwater wells all around the United States and the U.S. Geological Survey does keep records from some of those wells, but it’s not spatially continuous and there are some big gaps.”

The maps also offer farmers, ranchers, water resource managers and even individual homeowners a new tool to monitor the health of critical groundwater resources. “People rely on groundwater for irrigation, for domestic water supply, and for industrial uses, but there’s little information available on regional to national scales on groundwater storage variability and how that has responded to a drought,” Rodell said. “Over a long-term dry period there will be an effect on groundwater storage and groundwater levels. It’s going to drop quite a bit, people’s wells could dry out, and it takes time to recover.”

The maps are the result of a NASA-funded project at the Drought Center and NASA Goddard to make it easier for the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor to incorporate data from the GRACE satellites. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., developed GRACE and manages the mission for NASA. The groundwater and soil moisture maps are updated each Tuesday.


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