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No Rain Is Apparently Not News

While the Pacific coast is getting battered by storms, and while the Northeast coast continues to recover from Sandy, the only falling water that farmers in Nebraska, Kansas, and the great plains can see are the tears on their own faces.

The map to the right comes from the US Drought Monitor, and it’s not pretty. (Click the link for a larger, interactive version.) Using the drought scale of the DM, the entire state of Nebraska is gripped by at least a D2 severe drought, with more than 95% faced with D3 extreme drought and 75% suffering from D4 exceptional drought — the highest category. Kansas isn’t much better, nor is South Dakota, Colorado, or Oklahoma and parts of north Texas.

The accompanying discussion of the map isn’t any better. Their latest regional summary is an ugly snapshot of ugly conditions:

Central and Northern Plains:  Unseasonably mild, dry conditions maintained or increased drought across much of the region, although a swath of light to moderate snow (0.25 to 1.0 inch liquid equivalent) afforded localized drought relief in southwestern South Dakota.  The most notable changes were the expansion of Exceptional Drought (D4) in southern Kansas as well as an increase in Severe to Exceptional Drought (D2-D4) in central and northeastern South Dakota.  Over the past 90 days, rainfall has totaled less than 25 percent of normal from south-central Nebraska northward into central South Dakota.  Illustrating the drought’s impacts, winter wheat was rated 64 and 25 percent poor to very poor in South Dakota and Kansas, respectively, as of November 25, while Kansas’ pastures were rated 82 percent poor to very poor.  Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3-D4) also continued to afflict eastern Colorado, where pastures were rated 85 percent poor to very poor as of November 25.  A small decrease in Exceptional Drought (D4) was made to southwestern South Dakota, where updated data and input from the field indicated some improvement; precipitation (including some snow) in this corner of the state has been near- to above-normal over the past 30 to 60 days.

Looking more closely at things, it’s not just that rain isn’t falling — it’s that the soil itself is extremely dry. These maps from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center show the current conditions of the soil, and “extremely dry” only begins to tell the story.

The brewers at Boulevard Brewing here in KC are worried about the potential for problems with the winter wheat crop in Kansas, and they are hardly alone. Thieves in south-central Kansas are stealing hay. Folks in urban areas may laugh at that, but this is life and death stuff for people trying to keep their cattle and horses alive through difficult economic times as well as the drought. Cattle ranchers cannot graze their herds on pasture grass, and with both hay and winter wheat being so expensive — assuming you can get it at all — they are cutting back on their herds to a 39 year low.

Looking ahead, there is little hope on the horizon.  Those who ship cargo up and down the Mississippi River, especially between St. Louis and New Orleans, are  also concerned, because of the third map on the left, again from the CPC. Looking forward, they predict that these harsh drought conditions will remain where they are if not get worse. Whoever chose the colors for this map could not have chosen a better hue to display the bad news for much of the plains, the southwest, and the Rockies. For farmers, ranchers, and those who use their products, that forecast is one ugly, brown, heap of manure.

Hurricanes like Sandy grab the attention of the media — and rightly so — for the suddenness of their approach and the violence of their impact. Storms like those currently lashing northern California and the Pacific Northwest garner the headlines — and rightly so — for the flash flooding, mudslides, and other powerful effects of lots of rain in a short period of time.

But a drought is different. Weather reports in drought-affected areas that once would have started with “another nice day” now are opening with “no rain again today, and no significant precipitation is anticipated for the foreseeable future.” Static pictures of parched fields and stunted crops are not terribly vivid for television (watching grass grow is hardly gripping TV, even when you have enough rain), especially compared with the images of waves of rain and video of high winds whipping things around.

Like Chuck Todd’s famous “not news” comment about the December 2009 blizzards in the midwest, the “not news” story right now is the ongoing and deepening drought. But one of these days, the Villagers and the coastal national media will notice that it is news after all. Maybe when their beer prices go up and they can’t get the food they are looking for . . .


Images are from various socialist, redistributionist, pork-grabbing, inefficient, bloated, and unnecessary government agencies, filled with overpaid, lazy, moocher-bureaucrats who can’t get real jobs doing real work in the private sector where real things get done.

Oh, wait. That’s what folks like Oklahoma’s senators Tom Coburn and James “what climate change?” Imhofe would call them. Let me try again . . .

Images are from various overextended, underappreciated, and insufficiently funded government agencies, filled with underpaid, overworked, highly-trained public servants, who are doing the heavy lifting that the private sector can’t or won’t do, upon which the private sector depends in hundreds of thousands of ways.

Yeah, that’s much better.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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