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Illinois water study: Drought conditions all but eliminated
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

URBANA, Ill. — Increased precipitation amounts across the state of Illinois in March and April have “all but eliminated” drought conditions across most of the state, according to representatives from the Illinois State Water Survey.

“Receiving above-normal rainfall in March and April means that the drought in northern and western Illinois has ended,” said Derek Winstanley, chief of the Illinois State Water Survey, a division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

According to the agency’s latest drought update (www.sws.uiuc.edu/hilites/drought), while long-term precipitation deficits still remain in those regions, sub-surface soil moisture, streams and shallow groundwater have largely returned to near-normal levels.

Data revealed in the survey indicates the state received 4.08 inches of rain in April, or 0.28 inches above normal, and more than 12.3 inches in the year’s first four months, or 1.47 inches above normal.

“It appears the status of water resources throughout the state has improved significantly,” said Gary Clark, drought task force chairman. “We are more encouraged that the state will be able to get through the upcoming summer months without the need for further water conservation restrictions.”

State climatologist Jim Angel said that along with a return to a more active weather pattern, La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean have weakened significantly.

“La Nina occurs when abnormally cold water is present along the equator in the eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean. These cold waters modify the weather patterns over the Pacific, which in turn modify the weather patterns over the United States.”

Angel said the state is typically under a higher risk for hot and dry summers during La Nina events, and the return to near-normal water temperatures along the equator is a good sign for Illinois’ farmers. In addition, historical analysis of weather patterns reveals that a wet April-March usually serves as a harbinger for normal precipitation during the growing season, Angel said.

Tom Skilling, a meteorologist with Chicago’s WGN-TV, said the area’s reversal in rainfall amounts this spring has been stunning.

“Virtually every corner of the Midwest is running wetter this spring- in many cases substantially wetter,” Skilling said. “Most dramatic is the increase which has occurred in the region which includes the Quad Cities. There, spring rain is more than seven inches above totals recorded at the same time a year ago.”

That figure reflects an increase in rainfall amounts in the Quad Cities (Moline, Rock Island, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa) of more than 350 percent, Skilling said.

The increased rainfall, while a blessing for most producers, also caused some delays in planting in some regions of the state. However, as of April 30 around 72 percent of the state’s corn crop had been planted, compared to 79 percent last year and 59 percent for the five-year average, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.

This farm news was published in the May 10, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/10/2006