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Will Snowfall Increase Soil Moisture in Drought-Stricken Areas?

Will Snowfall Increase Soil Moisture in Drought-Stricken Areas?


Except for the Pacific Northwest and state of Louisiana, much of the area west of the Mississippi River is still experiencing severe to exceptional drought, causing real concern that last year's drought will extend into the 2013 growing season. Snow can certainly help return moisture to the soils in some of these areas, but a lot needs to fall to make an impact; 10 in. of snow only equals about an inch of rain.

The soil moisture profile would benefit most from a cold, snowy winter, with a thick blanket of snow that gradually melted in the spring. Unfortunately many areas have received short bursts of warm temperatures this winter, causing the snow to melt and run off into rivers and streams since the ground remains frozen.

Incidentally, growers who didn't till their fields this fall are more likely to benefit from whatever snowfall is received this winter. In an article posted on the South Dakota State University Extension website, SDSU Agronomist Nathan Mueller cites a three-year study in Morris, Minn., that showed how snow depth increased from 7 in. in a tilled field to 21 in. of snow in a no-till field where the stalks were left at 24 in. tall.

"Assuming an estimated snow to liquid ratio of 10:1, the 14 in. of extra snow captured in the Minnesota study equates to 1.4 in. of rain," Mueller says. "A different study comparing no-till versus conventional-tilled wheat demonstrated leaving standing stubble enhances snow retention, increases snow water infiltration and reduces the variability in soil moisture across the field. These researchers determined that the extra stored soil moisture (2.3 in.) could increase winter wheat yield potential by 13 bu./acre on ridge tops."

While this information doesn't help you right now, it's worth considering next fall – especially if 2013 yields another dry growing season. 



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