By TIM ALEXANDER
URBANA, Ill. — Just under 8 percent of Illinois is characterized as in “moderate” drought condition, according to the March 12 U.S. Drought Monitor.
With recent precipitation throughout most of Illinois expected to continue into spring, Illinois State Climatologist Dr. Jim Angel is far more optimistic about planting conditions than he was one year ago.
“I think we’re in really good shape,” said Angel, of the Illinois State Water Survey, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana. “In fact, this year we may be facing our old nemesis: Waiting for fields to dry out. Soil moisture-wise, we’ve made a pretty nice recovery throughout much of the state.”
March has been both colder than average across all of Illinois and wetter than average across western and northern Illinois, Angel reported on March 15 – with precipitation this month ranging from less than an inch in southern Illinois to more than two inches in western Illinois. He added that recent dryness in southern and eastern Illinois should be mitigated by wet conditions in those regions earlier in the winter.
“After a very quiet December and January, we suddenly had quite a few snow events in the second half of February and early March. We’ve had several rain events as well, which in some ways is better, in that (rain) has a little more efficient delivery system – and you don’t have to shovel it out of your driveway,” Angel said.
In Champaign County, where he is employed, precipitation was measured at around a half-inch above normal in January and more than an inch above normal in February.
”It really shows. The river and lakes around here and around much of Illinois are where they should be (depth) this time of year,” said Angel, who is currently winding down his annual Winter Farm Talk Tour for farmers and agribusinesses across Illinois.
“Driving around the state, I’ve seen a lot of water standing in fields, which is very typical of early March. It looks more like what we would expect to see this time of year, in stark contrast to last year when we were already starting to get dry in January and February.”
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor revealed several counties in northern and northwestern Illinois, along with two western Illinois counties, remain slightly deficient in soil moisture levels. In all, 7.69 percent of the state was classified as experiencing moderate drought conditions.
“There are some parts in far northern Illinois where the soil has not thawed, so some of their snow events may have not soaked in or may have ran off into rivers and streams. We’re not quite sure yet if they’ve done as well as the rest of the state (in current soil moisture levels),” Angel said.
“The most recent (USDA Illinois Weather and Crops) report showed topsoil moisture in pretty good shape around the state. There are lingering areas in northern and western Illinois that had some deficiencies in subsoil moisture.”
On Feb. 25, the date of the last issuance of the Illinois Weather and Crops Report, state topsoil moisture was rated at 75 percent adequate and 4 percent surplus, while subsoil moisture was rated at 43 percent short and 42 percent adequate.
“We’ll see if (soil moisture levels in lingering drought areas) have caught up when the April 1 report is issued. I suspect we’ll see some positive numbers,” said Angel.
Overall, conditions heading into planting season are vastly different than in March 2012, when unseasonably warm temperatures prompted many Illinois farmers to plant crops earlier than normal. Short- and long-term forecasts indicate further below-normal temperatures and continued precipitation for much of the state, Angel predicted.
“The forecast is calling for cold and wet conditions for the rest of March, and the three-month forecast for March through May has us with above-average precipitation,” he said. “But I don’t think that after last year, I’ll ever complain about mud again.”