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Drought Expected To Continue In Western Iowa Into Early Spring

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Amy Mayer
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IPR file photo
2018 and 2019 were very wet years for Iowa, while last year's drought had the biggest impacts on much of western Iowa. Scientists say that drought, which was moderate to extreme across western Iowa, is expected to continue until at least spring.

After western Iowa endured a drought last year, those conditions are expected to linger until at least this spring, according to scientists.

2018 and 2019 were very wet years for Iowa. Tim Hall, the hydrology resources coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said that probably helped get western Iowa through 2020's “harsh, dry conditions.”

“I think we didn’t see as significant an impact because of the wetness coming out of the two years leading into this one,” Hall said.

The Iowa DNR and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship held a webinar on drought conditions in which they reviewed 2020 and looked at what this year could have in store. Justin Glisan, the state climatologist, said northwest Iowa saw rain that was almost 10 inches below average, while the rain that west-central Iowa received was more than 11 inches below average.

“We did have ample subsoil moisture coming into the growing season, which was masking these precipitation deficits that started to seed in Pottawattamie and Cass counties over fall 2019,” Glisan said.

Glisan compared last year’s drought to the 2012 drought. He said the second half of 2011 was very dry, which set things up for the following year. 2020 had ample subsoil moisture from previous wet years, Glisan said, but dry conditions started to build up in the middle of the year from windy days with high temperatures and low humidity.

Western Iowa is still dry. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor from Jan. 7, most of the region is in a moderate to severe drought, while a few counties in far northwest Iowa, including O’Brien, Sioux and Clay, have a severe to extreme drought. Dennis Todey, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Midwest Climate Hub, said it’s unlikely things will change soon, even with a big winter storm.

“And while a big snowstorm can provide a melt-off and provide surface water which is a positive, our soils are mainly frozen now,” Todey said, “so we need to get thawing soils before we can get any kind of precipitation into those soils.”

Besides western Iowa, parts of Illinois and Indiana are also dry, Todey said.

"We don't expect it to improve quickly," Todey said. "I would expect it to improve some in the spring. Will it go away? I have a hard time thinking it'll go completely away."