For the first time in nearly eight years, 100% of Nebraska is in drought.
The last time that was the case was at the end of April 2013, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a drought-tracking system developed by the National Drought Mitigation Center, housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
To be sure, this year’s drought is nowhere near as severe as it was in 2013. At that time, the state was beginning to recover from the historic flash drought of 2012, which occurred in the midst of the state’s hottest, driest year on record. This year, extreme drought affects about 25% of Nebraska, whereas in late April 2013, more than 75% was in that bad a shape or worse.
In Iowa, a little more than a third of the state is in drought, according to the Drought Mitigation Center.
The figures were released late last week and are based on conditions as of Tuesday.
Cindy Fay, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings, said changing conditions vary across the state. Some parts of south-central Nebraska have seen an improvement, even though they remain in drought. That variation is likely to continue, she said.
The Grand Island area saw 131% of normal precipitation in November and December, according to her office. In the Omaha metro area, precipitation ran at 113% of normal for those two months, according to the weather service.
The good news is that winter typically doesn’t drive drought, she said. More important are spring and early summer, the region’s highest precipitation months, she said. Those months will prove crucial in any improvement or deterioration in conditions.
Still, the state saw a rough reminder last week of the dangers of winter drought, she said.
With no snow cover on the ground, dry conditions, low humidity and extraordinary winds, two fast-moving grass fires broke out, near Guide Rock and Benkelman.
“Once the fires developed, they were able to spread very rapidly,” she said.
The town of Benkelman was hastily evacuated, but firefighters were able to stop that fire before it reached the community. The fire near Guide Rock tracked for about 8 miles before it was extinguished.
Dust storms also were a problem last week because of dry conditions, lack of snow and strong winds.
There’s no sign of significant moisture in the immediate forecast, but Fay said there are indications of renewed precipitation later in the month.