National Drought Mitigation Center, USDA, NOAA

Drought Projections Depressing 2021 Vibes

Drought trigger warning. 2021 precip conditions are looking parched for the southwestern U.S.

Early January’s drought index, with 46%-ish of the U.S. experiencing moderate drought or worse, is raising concern for what’s to come. Looking at you, La Niña.

Refresher: A few degrees difference can be disturbing. In a La Niñyear, fierce winds over the Pacific Ocean push warm water west. Cold water rises to the surface. The eastern Pacific Ocean becomes a hair colder than normal. And we end up with a drier southwestern U.S. and a wet Australia and Indonesia.

USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey says La Niña dryness should last through the spring of 2021 and possibly longer. “Multi-year La Niña episodes have occurred several times, including 2010-12 and 1998-2001.”

Wut. 2010-12 drought conditions? Pause. Breathe. We aren’t there yet. But if La Niña keeps being as grosera (Spanish word of the day: rude) as forecasted, states like CA, NM, AZ, TX, and FL could be on that track. Plus, crispy conditions can equal wildfire risk. And Cali’s snowpack was only 52% of its average as of Jan. 1.

Zoom out: Despite the leery forecast, CoBank set a positive tone for the second half of 2021 in their quarterly report. Optimism was tied to the steady rise of corn, soybean, and wheat prices in 2020’s fourth quarter and hope of a rebounding foodservice sector.

But cattle folks cringe. Drought conditions and slightly tightened supplies of these crops have feed costs estimated to climb 29% during 2021.