Rain and snow during late February and first half of March in Iowa pretty much ran off rather than soaked into the ground because frost was still in the top foot or so of soil. That's what farmers attending the 2013 Iowa Master Farmer Awards day on March 14 in Des Moines reported. They came from all over the state; about 200 people attended. Northwest Iowa remains the driest part of the state, while thanks to snow and some rain, southeast Iowa is recharging its supply of subsoil moisture in the top 5 feet of soil.
Wayne Northey, of Spirit Lake in dry northwest Iowa, says "Our subsoil moisture reserve is very dry. We didn't get much snow this winter. We had some decent rain recently, not a great amount but at least some rain. But the ground was frozen so most of that rain ran off into streams and ponds. Lots of homes have had water in the basement in our area -- unusual in a drought. The rain melted the snow and the water couldn't get away. It didn't soak in because frost was in the ground."
Dennis Berger, farming with son Steve at Wellman in southeast Iowa, says most of the rain that fell in early March ran off with a lot of flooding in that area of the state. Ponds have started to fill. However, they had some moisture soak into the ground late last fall before the ground froze. "I would estimate our subsoil in this area is now two-thirds to three-fourths recharged and beginning to reach field capacity in some locations," says Steve. Some tile lines are starting to trickle.
Keep an eye on weather in Arkansas in March, it will forecast Iowa's planting season
"Pay attention to the weather in Arkansas during March," advises Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University Extension climatologist. "As days get longer, the weather pattern shifts north. The cold retreats into Canada where it belongs for the summer. And we in Iowa start having the weather in April and early May that was in Arkansas during March."
Come planting time in Iowa, the last half of April and first half of May, when we are concerned about whether it will be wet or dry for planting here, we need to look at what the weather was three or four weeks earlier in Arkansas. "If weather in Arkansas was persistent in March, either wet or dry, it'll likely be the same type of weather here in Iowa when the weather migrates north to Iowa a month later," says Taylor.
Climatologists can't yet say drought is over in Iowa, but recent rains and snow have helped
We can't yet say the drought is over in Iowa but recent rain and snow have brought some relief to other Corn Belt states and to some areas of Iowa too, notes Taylor.
The U.S drought monitor map released March 14 shows the portion of Iowa ranked from "moderate to exceptionally" severe drought was reduced from nearly 100% a week earlier to 75% as of March 12. Northwest Iowa continues to be the driest part of the state. All of Iowa was still listed in at least "abnormally dry" condition as of March 12, when the new weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map was issued.
In 2012, the worst drought in at least a half a century left 90% of Iowa's subsoil in the moisture-deficient category going into 2013. It continued that way through winter. Recently, most of Iowa received at least 2 inches of moisture in the form of rain and snow the weekend of March 9-10. But the impact of that moisture is uncertain because the ground was still frozen in the Midwest. While Iowa and Minnesota continue with drought as of March 14, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana have largely recovered, according to the weekly Drought Monitor map. For weekly updates visit www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu.
"Iowa still has a long way to go to relieve what has been the worst drought in a half-century, but much of the state has received some much needed precipitation since January 1," notes ISU's Taylor. The Des Moines area has received almost 4 inches of precipitation since the start of 2013, an inch over the normal 2.92 inches usually received by mid-March. Waterloo has received 5.35 inches, which is more than double the normal 2.37 inches. Mason City's 3.04 inches is well above its normal 2.37 inches; the 5.15 inches that's fallen on Ottumwa is higher than its 2.85 inch average.