Fewer and less severe droughts in corn belt

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Severe droughts in Indiana and Illinois seem to becoming few and far between, according to a Purdue University study.

Keith Cherkauer, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and Vimal Mishra, Cherkauer’s graduate student, used historical data from the U.S. National Climate Data Center to model the likelihood of future droughts in the two states.

“Historically, a drought like the Dust Bowl would happen every 100 years, but what we’ve found is that modern droughts are shorter and can be more severe,” Cherkauer said in a Purdue release. “The frequency of these droughts and the aerial extent has decreased significantly, however, since the middle of the last century.”

Studying precipitation data from 1916 through 2007, Cherkauer and Mishra found that only one severe drought – in 1988 – occurred since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. During that time, Indiana and much of northeastern Illinois have trended toward more precipitation during the crop-growing season from May to October, a positive for corn and soybean growers.

“There is less chance of having widespread, extreme drought,” Mishra said. “We may have drought, but the tendency is that we’re getting more precipitation during the crop-growing season.”

Cherkauer warned that despite the rarity of drought conditions, droughts would be likely to occur during the later part of the crop-growing season, when the plants need moisture to produce grains.

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