Precipitation prospects dim for West

Lack of rain affecting record wildfire season and wheat production prospects.

No precipitation is expected in the near future in the West, where wildfires rage and drought continues to expand.

“There is not a single drop of rain in sight from the Pacific Coast to the High Plains. That also happens to be the part of the country most impacted by drought at this point,” U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meteorologist Brad Rippey said.

As of Sept. 29, nearly 43% of the U.S. was experiencing drought, while nearly 62% was experiencing some form of dryness or drought.

If precipitation doesn’t occur soon, “we’ll be looking at a significant chunk of the hard red winter wheat production area that will not have enough moisture for proper emergence or autumn establishment of the crop,” Rippey said.

Issue are also showing up where planting is taking place, particularly winter wheat emergence in Colorado, he said, adding, “Emergence is lagging the average.”

The latest USDA “Crop Progress” report showed pasture and rangeland in poor/very poor condition at 40%, and 34% was rated in fair condition.

“We will be continuing to monitor the western situation from an agricultural and also a wildfire standpoint,” Rippey said.

Regarding the wildfires, Rippey said the situation has taken a turn for the worse in terms of weather. He particularly noted the Glass Fire in California that recently “exploded” from almost nothing to covering about 30,000 acres within a couple of days. The fire is now at nearly 51,500 acres and is only 2% contained.

“Unfortunately, it destroyed a couple of wineries and has burned through some orchards and some vineyards,” Rippey said.

Overall, this year’s wildfire season has already been record-breaking. In a Sept. 20 update, the National Interagency Fire Center reported that 7.5 million acres have burned year to date, up from 7.1 million acres at the end of last week.

“All of this has unfolded since the middle of August, so we’re only a month-and-a-half into this event,” Rippey said. “It could last until we get wetting rains, which potentially could be through October and into November, or beyond."

In other words, prospects remain dim. “We need a weather change,” he said.

Weather conditions will likely remain the same; the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently reported that La Niña conditions are present and are 75% likely to continue through the winter.

According to NOAA, La Niña conditions often feature drier-than-normal conditions in the Southwest in late fall through the subsequent winter. Drier-than-normal conditions also typically occur in the central Plains in the fall and in the Southeast in the winter.

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