Melting Snow Won’t Ease Iowa Drought Problems

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DES MOINES, IOWA — Some Iowa farmers saw the worst drought conditions in nearly a decade last year. That drought developed over the course of just a few weeks due to lack of rainfall. Months later those same areas are packed with snow, but the question is – will it alleviate the drought?

In an average year, Iowa gets approximately 34-38 inches of liquid precipitation. About 60% of that falls between April and August. Only 10% falls during the winter months. In 2020, western Iowa was significantly below average for moisture levels from April to August.

So far this winter, most Iowans living between Highway 30 and Highway 92 have seen 40″-50″ of snowfall this winter. That is well above average in terms of snow, but when it melts down it won’t be as beneficial to the soil moisture levels as some might hope.

“That soil is frozen. So that if we melted it all right now it would run off and run into the streams and rivers,” says Dennis Todey, Director of USDA Midwest Climate Hub and Ag Climatologist. He says the amount of moisture above the soil doesn’t matter until the ground is thawed. “If you have a three four or five inch rainfall a lot of that runoff so it doesn’t get into the soil so you need multiple smaller events that will help get water back in the soil,” Todey says.

Most of west-central Iowa remains in a moderate drought and will start the next planting season with drier soil. But drier soil at the start of the season doesn’t necessarily the whole season will be a bad one.

“There are some advantages to that producers can get out in the field a little bit sooner soils warm up sooner they can get access to the field a little quicker,” Todey says, “They can plant a little bit earlier, roots will you know can develop deeper.”

The Climate Prediction Center currently lists Iowa as having a 33% chance of experiencing above average temperatures through the spring months. There is just a strong a chance of having temperatures below normal as well.

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