Drought Expanding and Early Winter Looks Dry in Most Areas


Most of rural America can’t seem to shake drought conditions. Recent Drought Monitors are once again showing that drought is expanding. Dennis Todey is the director of the Midwest Climate Hub and an agricultural meteorologist who says the expansion has caught some people by surprise.

“It did, a little bit. We had been dry, especially in the Western Corn Belt and Central Corn Belt areas throughout much of the year, kind of a transition across Iowa. The Eastern Corn Belt has kind of gone back and forth in dryness and has never been too bad. Typically, in the fall, we start transitioning, kind of like we did in parts of Missouri and Iowa, and expanding into the Eastern Corn Belt now, where you have an inch of rainfall, kind of widespread, of light intensity, so it all soaks in. That is the first one we’ve had for a while or maybe all of the fall, of those kinds of rains that they expect to start getting some soil moisture recharge and maybe a little bit of runoff. It just hasn’t happened.”

Despite some recent rainfall in a few areas, there’s a long way to go to recharge soils.

“That’s gonna vary by where you are. If you’re Northern Plains or most of the Plains, central Corn Belt, Minnesota, Iowa, part of Illinois, and Missouri now, soils are very, very dry. That we had an inch of rainfall in parts of Missouri and Iowa last day, that’s a big help. It’s not going to solve the issue, but it’s a big help. We look at some indicators, some national maps that try to assess the soil moisture condition based on some remote sensing and some modeling, and all of them are showing up very dry, even for this time of year. And this time of year, our soils are typically drier anyways.”

He’s hopeful for some moisture to recharge soil during the winter, but if it happens, it’s going to be spotty.

“We have maybe another month or so that we could get some recharge going in the plains and part of the Midwest before it will probably freeze up. Now, it depends on how soon the cold gets here and how severe the cold is. As you go further south, and especially further east in the Eastern Corn Belt, Ohio, parts of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, where we don’t freeze, we may start getting some recovery if La Niña behaves itself. If you look at the long-range outlooks for the winter, they’re based on La Niña’s, which we’re in the third year of a La Niña right now, and that Eastern Corn Belt, Ohio River area, has a better chance of precipitation through the winter.”

He says the Midwest and Corn Belt states are having trouble consistently drawing moisture into the area, and unfortunately, that’s going to continue.

“The eight-to-14-day outlook offers a little bit of optimism right now that we could get some additional moisture. I don’t think there are going to be big fixes coming, but at least a little bit will help us. I’m afraid we’re going to carry a lot of very dry soil into the winter as we’re looking at things right now.”