Though drought conditions have been easing along the Mississippi and even more than disappeared through parts of the Corn Belt, the Plains continues to suffer even after a handful of beneficial rain events.
At least within the next four to six weeks, this persistent drought will stay, according to a recent outlook prepared by Harris-Mann Climatology. The National Drought Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paints a similar picture.
Overall, the ongoing drought will blanket the West, NOAA's report said this month, with Oregon and Idaho seeing potential development of drought conditions. Drought is also taking a stronger hold in the western Southwest, particularly New Mexico. More than 40% of the state is suffering from exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That's compared to less than 1% one year ago.
And, the Southwest drought also is expected to move and expand eastward over the central and southern Great Plains, as well as at least the western Midwest by late June or July, climatologist Cliff Harris said.
The drought conditions are taking a long-term toll on producers, as winter wheat conditions deteriorate. Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, South Dakota and Texas represent the hardest-hit areas.
Pasture conditions, too, show ominous signs of decline as well; USDA noted this month they are the lowest on record for this time of year. At the height of last year's drought, pasture and rangeland conditions broke records for poor conditions previously set in 2000, 2002 and 2006, USDA said.
Streamflows in the western U.S. are also expected to be significantly below average. Adding to poor rainfall expectations in the Southwest and portions of the West, much of the lower 48 is also forecast to have above-normal temperatures, NOAA reported.
According to meteorologist Randy Mann, the drought conditions are brought on by cooling sea-surface temperatures in the south-central Pacific Ocean.
Since late 2012, ocean waters were in a ‘La Nada’ or in-between the warmer El Nino and cooler La Nina sea-surface temperature event, Mann said. However, a new cooler La Nina may be declared within a matter of weeks.
"A new La Nina often leads to drier and warmer than normal weather east of the Rockies during the spring and summer seasons, as was the case in 2012," Mann said.
Harris-Mann predicts this current drought pattern may be the costliest U.S. natural disaster of 2012 and 2013 as damage estimates could be near $200 billion, even more costly than Hurricane Sandy.