Arkansas, like most of the southern United States, experienced drought conditions in 2010 and 2011. Drought conditions developed in 2010 after a record wet 2009, and extreme summer temperatures prevailed throughout most of Arkansas that year.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) the largest 2010 precipitation deficits occurred in southern Arkansas, with departures from normal precipitation ranging from -17.85 inches in southwest Arkansas to -20.51 inches in southeast Arkansas (NOAA, 2010). Large precipitation deficits were also recorded in other parts of the state (-8.6 inches in western Arkansas; -13.96 inches in northeast Arkansas; -14.14 inches in central Arkansas) (NOAA, 2010). In 2011, record high temperatures and drought conditions continued in both the western and southern portions of the state, with precipitation deficits ranging from -15.3 inches in the south central portion of the state to -18.96 inches in the southwestern portion of the state (NOAA, 2011).

The remainder of the state saw extreme flooding in late April and early May and for the most part had a precipitation surplus in 2011 (NOAA, 2011). This article reports on the impacts of the two drought years on Arkansas which has larger regional implications and considerations. Focus is placed on the areas of the state most affected by lack of precipitation and extreme high temperatures. Specifically, the paper highlights drought impacts on:

  • Trees.
  • Cattle and hay production.
  • Row crop production.

Arkansas Land Cover by Eco-Region

Basic knowledge of the typography and land use across Arkansas is important when describing drought impacts for the state. Eco-regions and land cover information for Arkansas is presented in Figure 1 (Arkansas Forestry Commission, 2010). Row crop production occurs primarily in the eastern part of the state depicted as the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in Figure 1.

This portion of the state is flatter than other regions and accounts for nearly all of the state’s harvested rice, soybean, cotton, corn, wheat, and sorghum acres (USDA, NASS, 2012a). The southern portion of Arkansas is rolling in topography and is composed primarily of pine and hardwood forest with some crop and pasture land located in the southwest corner of the state. This region is depicted as the West Gulf Coastal Plain which accounts for over 20% of the state’s beef cattle production (USDA, NASS, 2012a) and the majority of the state’s commercial timberland area (Arkansas Forestry Commission, 2010). The northern and western portions of the state (depicted as the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains) are composed of ridges, hills, and valleys covered by a variety of forest types (pine, hardwood, oak, cedar) and pasture land. These regions collectively account for approximately 65% of the state’s beef cattle (USDA, NASS, 2012a).