New snowfall helps, but drought deficit still looms
March 5th, 2013 by Ric Hanson
More snow has fallen on Iowa in the region’s third large winter storm in three weeks, prompting farmers and others to wonder what impact the snowpack will have on the long-running drought. Climatologist Al Dutcher says there are signs the weather pattern is starting to return to normal, but he says just getting average snowfall or rainfall won’t put a dent in the drought deficits. “To double that precipitation is only going to knock off four or five inches of these accumulated deficits,” Dutcher says. “The hydrological drought is here for a while. It would take an average of at least an inch of moisture every single week through this entire growing season for us to substantially impact the drought.”
He says more of these late winter snowstorms could help the region regain some of its lost moisture. Dutcher, a climatologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says the region needs more precipitation or spring planting will be a trial and the growing season ahead could be a disaster. “If the moisture doesn’t materialize these next two months, then it’s going to be exceptionally difficult if not virtually impossible for us to hold off the drought from getting much more intense as we get through this season compared to last season,” Dutcher says. “We won’t have any significant moisture in the profile. Most of it will to be right at the surface and it will not carry the crop.”
Ideally, he says the region needs to see a return to a normal rain pattern with temperatures low enough to keep vegetation from robbing a needed build-up of subsoil moisture. Parts of northeast Iowa are expecting up to ten inches of snow in this latest winter blast, another big help in overcoming the drought that began last year, the worst in more than a half century.