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Dry grass.

Severe drought now includes 1/6th of Wisconsin

June 29, 2023 8:21 AM

By: Jimmie Kaska

81% of the state is considered in at least moderate drought.

LINCOLN, Neb. (WMDX) – Drought continues to expand in Wisconsin despite some recent rainfall, according to the latest U.S. National Drought Monitor.

Moderate drought is now in 81.54% of Wisconsin, with severe drought expanding to about 1/6 of the state. The entire state is considered abnormally dry.

Five weeks ago, less than a fraction of a percent of Wisconsin was experiencing drought. Thursday’s drought monitor showed severe drought expanding in Wisconsin, with 16.67% of the state in that category. Last week, severe drought returned to about 8% of the state, meaning that area has doubled in just one week.

Severe drought, which is in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley as well as the area around Superior in Douglas County, has historical impacts such as lower crop yields, much higher use of groundwater for irrigation, and slower pasture growth.

Just three weeks ago, drought conditions were present in about a quarter of Wisconsin, quickly expanding to just under half of the state last week. The area of moderate drought in Wisconsin has roughly tripled in just two weeks, according to the Drought Monitor.

A few parts of Wisconsin not yet experiencing drought includes a belt across the state from roughly west-central Wisconsin in Clark County, across the central part of the state, including Stevens Point, to northeastern Wisconsin north of Green Bay. The area around Lake Winnebago, Door County, and far north-central Wisconsin are other areas spared from drought conditions, although all of these areas combined represent only about 18% of the state not currently experiencing drought.

Conditions aren’t any better across the Midwest: In the nine states that are considered the Midwest by the Drought Monitor, 90% of it is abnormally dry and 64% of it is in drought, with 24% in severe drought and about 3% in extreme drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that a few systems with rain did nothing to slow the widespread drought conditions worsening, especially in southwestern Wisconsin. Stream flows in the Upper Midwest have fallen to below the 10th percentile historically, as soil moisture evaporation has accelerated due to dry conditions over the past two months. Because of those conditions, the Drought Monitor greatly expanded drought and dry conditions to its report this week. Most of the Midwest is experiencing the same issue during a crucial part of the crop-growing season, with only areas receiving heavy rain seeing any improvements.

The USDA said that historically, abnormally dry conditions lead to lower water levels, burn bans, yellow or brown lawns, an increase in irrigation, outdoor water bans in some municipalities, and crops that are stressed, especially during growing season. Moderate drought impacts typically include higher hay prices and increased sales of livestock. Crop yields are lower and groundwater usage due to irrigation is much higher during severe drought.

In addition to the impacts historically due to drought, the USDA said that currently, 70% of the nation’s corn-growing area and 63% of soybean areas are in drought, including most of Wisconsin’s major crop area. Over half of the country’s winter wheat areas are also in drought. The most impacted crop in the state at the moment is strawberries, where production is struggling.

Short-term impacts to agriculture and grasslands are expected for the entire state. These impacts typically last fewer than six months, according to the USDA. In its summary, the drought monitor noted that in the driest areas, crop producers are already using supplemental feeding for livestock and that the loss of crop yield is becoming a concern. A small part of western Grant County in southwestern Wisconsin is in the long-term impact range, which affects hydrology and ecology.

In its long-range drought outlook released on June 15, the National Weather Service predicts almost all of Wisconsin will develop drought between now and September 30. Drought will persist in southern Wisconsin and a portion of northwestern Wisconsin, according to the forecast, with most of the rest of the state with the exception of far west-central Wisconsin expected to develop drought conditions. This is mirrored in most of the great lakes states, where drought currently exists.

The National Weather Service shows above-average temperatures and above-normal precipitation is expected for Wisconsin over the next six to 10 days, offering perhaps slight relief for drought-affected areas. The Climate Prediction Center at the NWS shows soil moisture below normal in all of Wisconsin except the northeastern part of the state, with seasonal levels far below normal in the southern two-thirds of the state and historic rain levels in the 10th percentile in far southwestern Wisconsin.

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