By LARRY KERSHNER
ST. LOUIS - The nation's worst drought in decades showed no signs of improvement last week in parts of the Midwest and Plains where the corn harvest is about two-thirds complete, clouding the prospects for the winter wheat crop, according to an Oct. 11 drought report.
The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly update, showing that nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states remained mired in some form of drought, was released the same day the federal government lowered for the fourth month in a row its projection for the size of this year's corn crop.
In terms of dryness, said Bryce Anderson, DTN's senior metoerologist, the summer dryness is likely to continue through the winter for much of Iowa.
"The ridge causing high temperatures over Utah and Western Colorado," he said, allows more northwest air flow over Iowa, but doesn't bring Gulf moisture up."
He foresees the dry weather pattern continuing.
September's state moisture average measured 1.63 inches of rain, Anderson said, the lowest total since 1990 for September.
According to Harry Hillaker, state climatologist, Iowa in general is lacking in nine inches of rain from Jan. 1 to Oct. 4.
As of Oct. 4, his records show that north central Iowa is 9.43 inches short of rain this year, while northwest Iowa is 4.51 inches short, west central is 7.61 inches and central Iowa is 10.95 inches short for the year.
"We're close to being as dry or drier as in 1988," Anderson said. Total rainfall up to Oct. 4 is measured at 20.5 inches. In 1988, by Oct. 4, the state received 21.65 inches.
Both Anderson and Hillaker contend that nine inches of rain before the ground freezes is all that would be needed to assure adequate moisture for 2013 spring planting.
But neither is seeing that likelihood since October and Novermber tends to be relatively dry months as a rule.
In fact, Anderson quoted a Florida State University study that tracked El Nino and La Nina weather patterns that indicated an El Nino winter is characterized by warmer -than-normal and drier -than-normal weather in the bulk of the Western Corn Belt.
"It's a bit surprising," Anderson said. According to the FSU study, Anderson said the Ohio Valley and Mississippi River Delta area can expect above-normal precipitation
"Following a dry year like 2012," Anderson said, the next year "tends to be dry as well." He expects the eastern and south eastern Corn Belt states will be wetter in 2013 than Corn Belt states west of the Mississippi River.
The USDA now estimates that farmers will harvest 10.7 billion bushels of corn, down from last month's estimate of 10.73 bb. The average yield is about 122 bushels per acre, off from July's projection of 122.8 bushels.
The dry conditions remained unchanged in Iowa, the nation's biggest corn producer, with three-fourths of the state still in the extreme or exceptional drought - the two worst classifications. Nearly all of Nebraska still fell under those two categories, according to the report, which covered the seven-day period ending on Nov. 9.
The USDA said 69 percent of the nation's corn crop has been brought in from the fields as of Monday, more than double the average rate of the previous five years. Iowa farmers have harvested about three-quarters of their crops while 80 percent of that grain has been brought in in neighboring Illinois. The Missouri corn harvest is nearly done.
Some 58 percent of the soybean crops have been harvested, 18 percent faster than the pace during the previous half decade.
Dry conditions continue to intensify in Kansas, where extreme drought now covers the entire south-central portion of the state, according to Thursday's update released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Those parched environs are stalling growth of winter wheat. The 65 percent of that crop planted in Kansas as of last Sunday was slightly above the average pace, though a below-average 25 percent of that emerged. Less than one-third of Nebraska's winter wheat fields have germinated, 12 days behind the norm.
Jim Suhr, Associated Press business writer, contributed to this report.