Dry conditions prevail in much of the country despite improved rainfall in March and April
Cumulative precipitation for the season through February 2018 was well below average in most areas, with record low snow accumulation in some basins. Moderate (50-100 mm) to locally heavy (200-300 mm) precipitation occurred over central, northwestern, and eastern parts of the country during the months of March and April. However, cumulative seasonal precipitation deficits remain significant in most areas, especially in the north and southwestern parts of the country. Despite increased precipitation in March and April, initial estimates from field reports indicate that area planted for rainfed wheat is smaller than last year, reflecting dry soil conditions and the use of extended areas for grazing.
Maximum daily air temperatures have been above average since mid-season in most areas, and are expected to remain above average in the coming months. These abnormally high temperatures have led to early snowmelt across hydrological basins of the country, particularly in the southwest. Availability of irrigation water will be below average, and poor water availability is likely to adversely impact yields for some areas during the main season, and more broadly for second (dry) season irrigated production.
Forecasts indicate below-average to average precipitation for the remaining weeks of the spring wet season. Along with cumulative precipitation deficits, the below-average forecast is reflective of a low frequency of storms entering the region, increasing the risk for extended periods of dryness that could impact agricultural production.
Update on seasonal progress
Widespread above-average precipitation during the months of March and April, especially over parts of western, central, and eastern provinces, greatly reduced the winter seasonal deficits over these areas (Figure 1a). However, seasonal cumulative precipitation remains at less than 85 percent of normal in some northern and southwestern provinces, with some areas in the north and parts of Badakhshan Province indicating 55 – 70 percent of normal (Figure 1b). Up to 300 mm of accumulated March-April precipitation over rainfed agricultural areas in several northern provinces was beneficial for on-time spring wheat planting. However, in Jawzjan, Balkh, and Badakhshan Provinces, low spring season precipitation could delay spring wheat planting. The spring season precipitation deficit continues to be well below-normal in the southwestern provinces of Nimroz, Helmand, and Kandahar.
Snowpack and snow water storage:
Although moderate snowfall during the months of March and April helped reduce the accumulated winter season snow depth deficits over the central mountains (Figure 2), the snow cover is depleting sooner and faster than usual due to persistent above average temperatures. While late April snowfall events increased storage over a few northern and eastern basins (Figure 3), snow water volume is still well below the average in most basins. Water availability from snowmelt in the southwestern basins is likely to end a few weeks sooner than normal, therefore raising the risk of insufficient water for some areas of main season (April-May) irrigation, and potentially leaving little or no water available for second season crops (Figure 4).
Average maximum temperature was well above-normal across the country for an extended period during March and early April. Although temperatures averaged near to below-normal during the third week of April, they are expected to be well above-average again across the country in the coming months (May – July) (Figure 5). Above-average temperatures during late spring are always a concern for spring flooding; however widespread spring flooding is less likely because of very low levels of snow accumulation in the central mountains. It is important to note that flash flooding is still possible as a result of intense spring rain episodes.
Cumulative precipitation forecasts call for below-average to average conditions over the remainder of the spring wet season through May, with increased risk for extended periods of dryness due to a decreased frequency of storms (Figure 6). The rainfed wheat planting and early crop development, especially in the north and northeast, may experience unfavourable conditions over the remainder of the spring wet season.