Recent downpours weren’t enough to end Missouri’s summer drought, but state and federal agencies are deploying solutions to mitigate its effects.
A new drought map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows changing but persistent hot and dry conditions south of the Missouri River. Since the governor’s executive order declaring a drought alert July 21, three counties have reached a heightened status, bringing the total number of counties experiencing severe drought to 56.
Missouri’s Drought Assessment Committee — made up of state and federal agencies and agricultural groups in the state — met for the first time Thursday to assess weather conditions and how to respond.
The state’s drought plan was created in 2002, but the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is in the process of updating it. Erin Fanning, DNR’s Water Resources Center director, said the department is applying some of the information from the updated plan to the original for a blended, more efficient response to the current situation.
The plan includes four phases, ranging from an advisory phase to a drought emergency phase. The state is currently in the second phase, in which a drought alert has been declared and the assessment committee is activated.
If conditions worsen, the state may move to the third phase, which is when the state begins imposing limitations on water use.
“The communities that we’re serving, some of them are definitely reaching some stressful points,” Fanning said, calling it an exceptional scenario.
Based on the state’s previous response to drought and flood cycles, DNR Director Dru Buntin said early conversations are crucial for mitigating negative effects.
“We’re stronger when we hear a wide range of perspectives, but also when we pool our agency resources together and are having a common conversation,” he said.
DNR has been compiling resources for farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers on the drought page of its website.
Current listings include the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s hay directory, an interactive map showcasing where farmers can access water from public lands, a link to request a special permit from the Missouri Department of Transportation to haul oversized loads of hay, and variances approved by the Soil and Water Districts Commission.
DNR and the Missouri Department of Conservation opened more than 40 conservation sites and 20 state parks for farmers to pump water for livestock.
There are two drought pumping locations in Cole County: Binder Community Lake and Winegar Lake. Ben Branch Lake in Osage County and Manito Lake in Moniteau County can also be pumped, as can Little Dixie Lake and Big Lake in Callaway County.
Livestock producers who want to pump water from public lands need to contact the area manager to receive an expedited special use permit. Farmers are required to bring their own water hauling equipment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency has also started offering resources to Missouri farmers, such as programs to provide water to livestock producers with drying water sources and pay for their livestock losses.
Jeremy Mosley, an executive officer with the agency, said the Livestock Forage Disaster Program is available in 32 counties and pays farmers per lost animal for three months. Cattle, sheep and agricultural horses are eligible for the funding.
Mosley said FSA is expecting to process from 1,600-1,800 applications for drought relief.
The direction of resources is better defined with public reporting of drought conditions throughout the state, said Jennifer Hoggatt, deputy division director for DNR.
The department is asking the public to report conditions with photos through an online form on its website.
Hoggatt said about three weeks ago, 30-35 people had submitted reports. That number jumped to nearly 200 a week later.
“That tells you the strength of this,” she said. “It also tells us that we’re seeing more impacts on the ground, so I think that’s powerful.”
After signing executive orders on flooding and drought within a week, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday he didn’t know what was next for Missouri, but he’s sure the state can weather it.
“We learn as we go in the administration and we know when I first became governor we were facing some of the worst drought in our state’s history. Not too long after that, we were facing the worst floods in our state’s history,” he said. “And here we are recycling again.”
“We’re just trying to get through this thing the best we can and do what we can to help,” he continued. “You can’t fix everything, but we can do what we can to help.”
Drought and the forecast
Doug Kluck, central region climate services director with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, detailed the weather conditions leading up to the current drought conditions to the Drought Assessment Committee.
Excluding rainfall from Wednesday to Thursday, Kluck said the state has received significantly less rain than it typically would since the beginning of June. Some of the worst parts of the state have received less than a quarter of their usual precipitation, he said.
That lack of rainfall coincided with two months of temperatures up to 5-7 degrees above average, Kluck explained.
“That’s a long time to have that consistently warm temperature,” he said.
Kluck said rainfall brought spotty relief to some parts of the state in July, but not southern Missouri. Although most of the state has received rain in the past two weeks, only some portions actually benefited from it.
“The point is, you’ve still got terrible drought in the south and southwest, especially,” Kluck said, adding that the technical term is extreme drought. “I imagine some of that will get shaved back once this is done again next week.”
But weather is constantly developing, he cautioned, so conditions can always change.
Kluck said there was substantial precipitation from Wednesday to Thursday, particularly in the southern two-thirds of the state. Those effects are too recent to appear on current drought condition maps.
Kluck described the drought as a “typical” summer drought, meaning it began and will likely subside during the summer months — not that this is a typical summer. Total precipitation for the year isn’t far from normal, he said.
Mark Fuchs, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service, delivered a forecast of drought conditions.
Fuchs said rain Wednesday and Thursday soaked some parts of the state experiencing extreme and severe drought in southern Missouri, with some areas receiving 5-7 inches. Showers were sporadic in northeast Missouri, which he said is beginning to dry out as less than a quarter of its usual rainfall has dropped in the past two weeks.
In coming days, little to no more rain is expected in central and northern Missouri, Fuchs said, but there’s potential for southern Missouri to get up to 2 inches.
“I like that area hopefully getting 1.5 to 2 inches,” he said. “That would be just what the doctor ordered in that local area because it is pretty dry in that particular area.”
Besides the southeast corner of the state, Fuchs said temperatures in Missouri will remain higher than normal over the next couple weeks.
Forecasts for the month of August indicate drought conditions will recede, Fuchs said, but 90-day forecasts show the possibility of a return in northern Missouri, an area that hasn’t experienced drought yet this summer.