The U.S. needs more than average precipitation to end the worst drought since the 1930s, while normal to below-normal rainfall is forecast, said John Nielsen-Gammon, a state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University.
The dry spell means no incentive to expand the U.S. cattle herd, Nielsen-Gammon said in an interview after a presentation at a cattle industry conference in Tampa, Florida. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week that the cattle herd as of Jan. 1 was the smallest since 1952 after the drought scorched pastures, raised feed costs and spurred ranchers to cull herds.
“The drought is so intense at the moment in parts of the U.S. that it will take a lot to end it,” Nielsen-Gammon, based in College Station, Texas, said. “And the seasonal forecasts right now are tilted to normal to below-normal rainfall, which means the odds are stacked against ending it anytime soon.”
More than 57 percent of the U.S. was in drought as of the week ended Jan. 29, compared to 36 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 27 percent of the High Plains is in “exceptional” drought, compared to less than 0.1 percent in that category a year earlier, according to the Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Producers are ready to expand “as soon as the weather cooperates,” according to Ron Plain, a livestock economist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Nielsen-Gammon said he hasn’t seen “any indication” that the weather is going to be cooperative. The north Atlantic Ocean may be “running warm,” which suggests that the summer will be “fairly dry again,” he said.