Mississippi has experienced less rainfall than normal for a year now, with this past winter perhaps the driest on record in 100 years.
The last thing agriculture and forestry need in Mississippi is another year of below-normal rainfalls. But with the state already about nine inches below normal at the first of March, concerns about drought conditions are mounting.
“The drought is a concern over the whole state,” said Jim Quinn, a marketing specialist with the Farm Bureau and the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “It is worse down south than up north. The northwest portion of the state has gotten some rain, but everybody is concerned about it.”
Quinn said it is still early in the year to gauge the impact of the drought. If conditions turn around and farmers get rain at the right time, production should be good.
“But if, particularly on dry land farming where there is no irrigation, it doesn’t rain at the right time, it will be a wreck,” Quinn said. “If you go back for a full year, we’re probably between 15 to 18 inches short of normal rainfall right now. Depending on where you are in the state, from one to nine inches of rain would bring us up to adequate soil moisture to make a crop at this time. We’re too late to get enough rain to recharge the subsoil moisture. If we got enough rain now to do that, it would delay planting. What we are going to need is rain throughout the year.”
Because the drought has lasted for more than a year, it would take more than just normal amounts of rainfall to provide relief.
“This is a drought of critical intensity, and potentially could have serious ramifications in terms of farmers making money this year,” said Jay Grymes, a climatologist with the Southern Regional Climate Center. “In some parts of Mississippi, especially southwest Mississippi, this could be one of the driest, if not the driest, winter in a century. Obviously, with that kind of moisture deficit we are clearly experiencing drought conditions.
“The area of extraordinarily dry conditions goes from eastern Texas to Mississippi. These are important places because of lot of that region is dependent on agriculture. The soils are so dry that some farmers won’t even get to plant.”
The short-term outlook for enough rain to break the drought is not good. Over the past year the moisture deficit ranged from four inches below normal in northern Mississippi to 10 inches below normal for south Mississippi. Looking at January and February alone is even worse, averaging 10 inches below normal in the north and as much as 20 inches below normal for the past year in some parts of southern Mississippi.
“These are big deficits,” Grymes said. “In some of these places you are talking about one-fourth or more of the annual rainfall.”
The short-term outlook is not promising. Grymes said climate conditions suggest that rainfall over the next month to 90 days will likely remain either near normal or below normal.
“What we could really use right now would be a run of wetter than normal weeks, above average rainfall that would allow us to recharge the soils and get the state prepared for spring planting,” Grymes said. “But, there is not a really good outlook for that.”
The source of the problem is believed to be La Ni