Three months ago, the entire state of Louisiana was in some form of drought, but Tropical Storm Lee seems to have brought some relief.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of Sept. 20 about 45 percent of the state — primarily along the track of Tropical Storm Lee along the eastern side of the state — is no longer considered in drought conditions. Compare that with Aug. 30, when almost the entire state was in some sort of drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Lee took a big bite out of the drought in Louisiana,” said Barry Keim, Louisiana state climatologist. “It produced that much rain.”
At the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, the rain gauge measured 8.81 inches of rain from Sept. 1 through Sept. 5 and at the New Orleans airport, there was 11.05 inches during that same time period.
Some areas of the state got between 10 inches and 15 inches, Keim said. The good news is that the rain fell over a matter of days instead of a few hours, allowing the rain to soak into the ground.
“It was a protracted rain over about three days,” Keim said.
In the western part of the state, the drought ranged from “exceptional” to “abnormally dry” with the worst being far west and gradually getting better toward the east, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That area was out of the direct line of Tropical Storm Lee and the rainfall it produced.
The drought did affect Louisiana farmers and their yields, said Kurt Guidry, an agriculture economist with the LSU AgCenter.
Guidry said the state was 14 inches below normal through August.
Tropical Storm Lee helped some cattle farmers with extra hay they needed, but others were forced to sell their cattle, Guidry said.
The storm was “too little, too late” for the producers of row crops such as corn, soybean, and cotton, Guidry said.
“Most yields for row crops were already made by this time,” Guidry said.
Guidry said the lack of rain wasn’t the only thing that was bad for Louisiana farmers.
“The heat and the temperatures caused problems. Those summer temperatures in the high 90s and 100 degrees didn’t help,” Guidry said.
As an example, Guidry said, the high temperatures diminished the pollination needed for rice to grow in irrigated areas.
Severn Doughty Jr., production manager of Bracy’s Nursery in Amite, said the Louisiana drought didn’t hurt his business as much as it could have because his operations are irrigated.
“We had some problems with insects that come in when it gets hot and dry, so we had to buy more insecticides and spray more but it wasn’t as bad for us as it was for dairy and cattle farmers,” Doughty said.
Doughty said the state’s drought illustrated the need for nurseries, farmers and others in the agriculture production industry to irrigate their products if they can afford it.
The respite brought on by Tropical Storm Lee for Louisiana could be temporary, Keim said.
“Since then, we haven’t had much rain,” Keim said. From Sept. 5 through Sept. 17, there was no rainfall in the Baton Rouge area and only about two-thirds of an inch fell Sunday and Monday, he said.
Keim also said a La Niña weather pattern has set up, although it’s weak. That weather pattern usually means warmer and drier winters for Louisiana, Keim said.
He said there are likely areas that could slide into drought conditions because the area has received below-normal rainfall for so long. So far this year, the state has received 31.1 inches of rain, which is below the normal rainfall by this point of 44.6 inches, Keim said.
“There’s a good chance we’ll move back into drought in Louisiana,” he said.