Snowfall could lessen severe drought in Boone County

The USDA declared two Missouri counties primary natural disaster areas

Columbia’s recent 10-inch snowfall is likely to alleviate, but not eliminate, drought conditions in the area, experts said.

“(The snow) absolutely does make a dent,” National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said. “Does it solve it? Absolutely not.”

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ drought monitor, as of Feb. 19, more than 84 percent of the state is experiencing abnormally dry to severe drought conditions. All of Boone County is experiencing either moderate or severe drought.

Drought conditions have improved somewhat since last fall. In late September, all of Missouri was experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions.

“In the fall, we didn’t get as much (precipitation) as we would have liked,” Fuchs said. “It’s really been about since Christmas that we’ve been getting decent rainfall and snowfall.”

Fuchs said snow is among the best types of precipitation to get in a drought because its slow melting allows water to better absorb into the ground.

“Snowfall is really one of the best types of moisture you can get in a drought because it does melt gradually over time,” Fuchs said. “Heavy rain would seem to be good, but it’s not really because it comes down so quickly you immediately get runoff to streams and rivers.”

On Feb. 20, the Department of Agriculture declared Hickory and Lawrence counties primary natural disaster areas due to prolonged drought conditions. Farmers in Hickory, Lawrence and 12 surrounding counties will now be eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to help recoup drought-related losses, USDA spokeswoman Tanya Brown said. Another 21 counties in Missouri were previously declared eligible for the loans, according to USDA records.

Although Brown said the USDA has seen drought conditions for several years, the current drought is considered to be the most severe yet.

“Last year, it was a little bit over 50 percent of counties in the U.S. that were named natural disaster areas,” Brown said. “It was a historical drought in terms of what we haven’t seen before, but for the past two or three years we have been dealing with drought.”

The USDA automatically declares primary natural disaster areas in areas that have been in severe drought for more than eight weeks, Brown said. Governors can also request that counties in their states be declared natural disaster areas. Emergency loans are generally granted to farmers who have experienced significantly smaller crop yields.

“You have to have a certain amount of crop losses, generally 30 percent of the crop,” Brown said. “But not everybody has been affected. People come to us as a last resort for these kind of emergencies, usually because they have crop insurance.”

The USDA does not only grant counties natural disaster designation in case of drought, Brown said. Heavy rains, hurricanes and bug infestations can also cause crops to fail.

So far, weather predictions suggest that the drought could continue to improve in some areas of Missouri.

“The three month outlook has good and bad news,” Fuchs said. “The bad news is that we’re looking at above-average temperatures. The good news is that east of Columbia, we expect above-average precipitation. West of Columbia, the chance of above-average precipitation is more 50-50.”

Spring weather is likely to determine whether the drought persists into the summer.

“The spring is a critical three months as far as drought goes,” Fuchs said. “If we get above-average rainfall in spring, we would be in better shape for summer.”

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