Drought conditions in Mississippi have eased significantly with El Niño weather patterns bringing the state much-needed precipitation after an exceptionally dry fall.
Bill Burdine, an extension agronomy specialist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center, says Mississppi’s topsoil moisture is looking good after several rainfall events that have reduced the state’s drought conditions.
“We’re definitely still in a drought,” Burdine says, but he expects corn, cotton, and soybeans to perform well this year unless the state’s aquifers don’t receive the additional moisture they need to help keep crop yields up.
The latest drought monitor map for Mississippi shows that 3% of the state is in D4 exceptional drought compared to 44% from just three months ago. Seven percent of the state’s acres are in D3 extreme drought, 28% is in D2 severe drought, 18% is in D1 moderate drought, and 13% is abnormally dry. Currently 32% of Mississippi’s acres are free from drought stress.
Burdine says he anticipates some challenges for farmers in the Mississippi Delta region this year because “the aquifers have definitely been depleted” after last year’s lack of rainfall.
If the state doesn’t get enough additional rainfall to recharge the subsoil moisture supplies, Burdine says he’s afraid irrigation water supplies will run out before the 2024 season is complete.
Mike Brown, Mississippi state climatologist, says he’s a lot more optimistic about the state’s soil moisture supplies being replenished than he was just two months ago. After all, Brown says Mississippi received 120 to 130% of its normal precipitation throughout the month of January, easing drought conditions across the state.
Brown says the increased rainfall is a result of the El Niño weather pattern doing its job. He says in the short term there are two to three more opportunities for additional moisture to continue to improve the state’s drought conditions.
When it comes to the state’s soil moisture being ready for the 2024 planting season, Brown says that, “statewide the top 10 cm is ready to go. Even down to around 40 cm where the drought was the hardest we’re almost back to normal soil moisture.”
The only area of the state that is still “lagging behind” when it comes to replenishing soil moisture is the northwestern corner of Mississippi, Brown says. However, he says that he’s optimistic about the upcoming season as slightly above normal rainfall continues to fall across the state.
Additionally, Brown says that the Mississippi River’s water levels are starting to rise. In some areas, the river rose eight feet in one week because of rainfall and snow followed by warmer temperatures, Brown says.
Brown says his only concern now is having the rain stop long enough for farmers to be able to plant their crops. “At some point we need [the rain] to go down to a trickle,” he says.
“Right now everything is on track,” Brown says, “we just want to make sure we get a dry 10 to 15 days so we can get the tractors in the fields.”
Looking at the long range weather outlook, Brown says that we’ll be transitioning out of El Niño and into La Niña around early May into July. With the change to a La Niña weather pattern, Brown says that sea surface temperatures are expected to be above average, which means there will be a “slightly higher potential for land falling tropical systems.”
Mississippi could see an uptick of tropical storms late in the growing season and around harvest time, Brown says. “I would hate to see crops reach maturity and then have devastating flooding rains and tropical storms,” he says.