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In recent days, some of the weather focus has shifted from drought to the tropics. Indeed, Tropical Storm Isaac is bearing down on the central Gulf Coast of the United States, and hurricane warnings have been issued from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Destin, Florida. According to the National Hurricane Center, a coastal storm surge of 6 to 12 feet can be expected in southeastern Louisiana and southern portions of Alabama and Mississippi, along and just east of Isaac’s expected path. On its present course, Isaac should reach the central Gulf Coast late Tuesday. The NHC indicates that further strengthening can be expected prior to landfall, and Isaac should reach the coast as a Category 1 hurricane – with sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph. Another threat related to Isaac will be flooding rains. Rainfall has already topped 10 inches in parts of southeastern Florida, where locally heavy squalls persist. In the central Gulf Coast region, widespread 6- to 12-inch totals are forecast, with isolated amounts near 18 inches possible. Crops potentially in the path of Isaac include cotton and sugarcane. By August 26, cotton bolls open in the Delta States ranged from 32% in Missouri to 61% in Louisiana. Cotton in the open-boll stage of development is especially vulnerable to damage when high winds and heavy rain occur. In Louisiana, more than one-quarter (28%) of the new sugarcane crop had been planted by August 19. Many other crops, including unharvested corn, rice, and soybeans, could be susceptible to lodging (i.e. being flattened or blown over) or quality degradation due to Isaac’s effects.
Once inland, Isaac will slowly move into drought-affected sections of the Mid-South and lower Midwest. While it is too early to determine exactly where or how much rain will fall at inland locations, any moisture in drought-affected areas will help to revive pastures and boost soil moisture reserves in preparation for winter wheat planting. Current NHC projections take Isaac’s remnant circulation northward into the middle Mississippi Valley by week’s end. Outside of Isaac’s sphere of influence, warm, mostly dry weather can be expected nearly nationwide for the remainder of the week.
However, nearly forgotten amid Isaac’s approach were recent heavy rains (locally 2 to 4 inches or more) across the central and southern Plains and western Corn Belt. Although the rain arrived too late to benefit most summer crops, the soil moisture improvements will assist with pasture recovery and promote pre-planting fieldwork for winter wheat.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, crop conditions for corn and soybeans declined slightly during the week ending August 26. Corn rated very poor to poor climbed one percentage point to 52%, while soybeans rated very poor to poor also rose a point to 38%. Meanwhile, recent rainfall on the southern Plains arrested a decline in cotton conditions. Overall, 28% of the U.S. cotton crop was rated very poor to poor on August 26, a two-point improvement from the previous week. National rangeland and pasture conditions remained virtually unchanged for a fourth consecutive week, with a record-high 59% rated very poor to poor.