Wednesday, 15 May 2002: 10:30 AM
Drought and Impact Disconnect: The Midwest Drought of 1999-2000
The drought conditions experienced in the Midwest in 1999 and 2000 were quite severe by most objective meteorological criteria. At its worst, almost the entire Corn Belt from central Nebraska to Indiana was denoted by the U.S. Drought Monitor as under severe drought (D2 conditions). However, by the time the event was over, there were very few direct impacts for such a widespread and persistent dry period. The lack of severe impacts appears to have been the result of the timing of the event. In the southern Midwest, in Missouri, southern Illinois, and Kentucky, dryness started in June 1999, so there were significant crop losses during that season at the southern margins of the Corn Belt. Dryness took hold in the bulk of the region in early July 1999, following a normal to wetter than normal spring and early summer. The national production of corn was not greatly impacted, as the core of the Corn Belt had just sufficient soil moisture to make it though the end of the growing season. Persistent dryness in the fall and again in Spring 2000 brought forth dire predictions for the approaching growing season. Rains returned in abundance in mid-May, however, and after an early planting completion, yields were also excellent in 2000.
This paper will examine how the 1999-2000 drought evolved over time and how drought status was evaluated in real time. There are clearly difficulties inherent in determining drought status in the humid Eastern U.S. during seasons with little or no agricultural impact (late fall-winter-early spring in the Midwest). This is somewhat analogous to the problems of determining drought status in the Western U.S. during the warm weather dry season, when winter precipitation concerns are paramount for reservoir-based water systems. In the Midwest, the impacts of the potential continuation of the drought into the 2000 growing season may have been more severe than the impacts during the drought proper, as a speculative grain price bubble burst with the return of above normal rain to the Midwest.