Ag Weather Forum
Bryce Anderson DTN Ag Meteorologist and DTN Analyst

Friday 12/21/12

Soil Dryness Issues to Remain Through Winter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Iowa is not the only state in the Western Corn Belt, but the state's conditions set the tone for the region. In these last two weeks of 2012, Iowa's veteran state climatologist has some concerns about how soil moisture supplies will finish this year.

The time frame will be very short for soils to replenish moisture needed for planting following a mixed precipitation total during fall 2012. (DTN photo by Kurt Lawton)

"The fall season precipitation was somewhat disappointing," said Harry Hillaker. "The extreme northeast corner had above-normal totals since Sept. 1. The rest of the state, especially the far northwest, is really dry."

Hillaker's records show the far northwestern sector of Iowa -- north of a line from near Sioux City to just north of Mason City -- received less than half the usual fall precipitation.

"We saw less than three inches in that section," he said. "Normal spring rain would not be even close to getting soil moisture back to field capacity in that area. So, we'll likely start out the spring season behind on soil moisture."

Elsewhere, soil moisture is generally below normal, with some potential for enough improvement by planting time in 2013 to offer crops a decent start. Hillaker is guardedly optimistic about the eastern one-third of the state -- an area bounded by a north-to-south line from Waterloo to Ottumwa and then east to the Mississippi River. "Most of this area has been close to normal for fall precipitation; it's not enough to get to field capacity, but this area should be able to get there by spring," he said.

The remainder of Iowa -- the central, north-central, south-central and southwest crop reporting district -- "probably will be a little on the short side come planting, but at least halfway decent," Hillaker said. "Fortunately, it would not take record-breaking rains to get to normal (soil moisture supply)."

One environmental factor that may play a part in the moisture recharge scenario is a very mild temperature trend up to this point. This year is the second-warmest on record in Iowa (the warmest year was 1931), and the mild temperatures mean very little frozen ground so far.

"There is a reasonable chance that we'll have a bit longer recharge season," Hillaker said. "And, depending on the track of the snowstorm (Dec. 19 to 20), if we had snow of around three inches minimum, all the state would benefit; even far northwest Iowa would have some moisture soak in."

Soil moisture supply recharge during winter and spring is critical, Hillaker said. "After the first of June, you start losing moisture during the day," he noted. "And, considering we had such a huge drought area across the country this year, once you get into the last of spring into summer, that lack of soil moisture can result in lower humidity and a more difficult time of it to get rain. That's not a big deal this time of year, but it becomes a real issue in spring and summer."

In the past 45 years, Hillaker's records show the only drier years than 2012 in Iowa were 1988, 1989 and 1976.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@telventdtn.com

(ES/CZ)

Posted at 7:30AM CST 12/21/12 by Bryce Anderson
Comments (4)
Bryce, Just wanted to tell you that we had a grave opening today and after about 18in down the soil is still just dust. We have had some good rains here in Dec. too, but it is still way to dry for this time of year. Our area got about 1.5in. this week, I couldn't believe it was that dry yet.Will take many more good soakers to bring the subsoil miosture back up.Maybe we will get snow!!
Posted by Raymond Simpkins at 3:07PM CST 12/21/12
sorry raymond but snow doesnt do crap for bringing moisture to soil, it will keep u busy shoveling tho
Posted by Unknown at 5:03PM CST 12/22/12
Northeast In, its about the same here too, won't take long in the spring to dry out here.
Posted by Tom Keller at 2:23PM CST 12/25/12
If you want to know how much good snow will do for ground water recharge fix your grandkids a glass of cherry Koolaid. Put two ice cubes in it, have them drink it and then check what color the ice cubes are. Yep- not red! We are gettting 5-10 inches of snow in Indiana today on basicly unfrozen ground. Will calculate to about an inch of rain bring our total since 9/1/12 to about 4-5 inches. Averange rain fall for a week this time of year is 0.6-0.75 inches, 16 weeks and 4-5 inches of rain you do the math. Palmer dought index says no drought in Indiana! We too found dry dirt 2 feet down digging post holes. Not just west that is dry.
Posted by Kevin Kremer at 1:46PM CST 12/26/12
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