Monday 11 March 2013

Snow is mostly a mirage for soil moisture

After last year's major drought in the US, farmers are thirstily eyeing the layer of snow covering the fields of the Great Plains and Midwest. "This snow is a huge blessing, and our subsoil has a lot more room to store moisture," said a Kansas farmer on after last week's big snow in the state. Heavy snow fell earlier in March in some of the neediest areas. Coverage included northwest Texas, west central Oklahoma and far south central Kansas, said Don Keeney, MDA EarthSat Weather.

"The snow is now melting across the southern Plains, which will help to improve soil moisture for wheat," Keeney noted in a e-mail newsletter at the beginning of March.

But, that large blanket of white across the country is mostly a mirage in terms of recharging soil moisture. By the time the soil thaws, most of the moisture will be gone, thanks to runoff and sublimation, says Matt Helmers, an Iowa State University agricultural and biosystems engineer.

"Things are still frozen underneath in many areas, so that once it warms up we will probably lose the majority of the water to runoff, rather than infiltration," Helmers told

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