Several indicators suggest a dry spring
It's rained a lot this winter, but that doesn't mean the drought is over for Illinois.
In fact, if the coming spring is anything like last year's spring, the state's water resources could become depleted faster than they did in 2005, according to a recent report by the Illinois Drought Response Task Force.
"There are some things working against us right now," said Jim Angel, state climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey and one of the authors of the report.
For one thing, La Nina has sprung up in the last month. In previous La Nina years, when the waters of the Pacific Ocean cool, Illinois tends to have warm, dry summers, Angel said.
"It's not a guarantee, but it increases our chances (of dry summers)," he said.
Several other indicators point to the probability of a dry spring and summer, according to the report. Last year it was dry in states southwest of Illinois, such as Texas and Oklahoma, and that dryness eventually moved into Missouri and Illinois. That could happen again, Angel said.
Plus, some research suggests warmer-than-normal sea temperatures in the north Atlantic Ocean could increasing the chance or risk of drought in Illinois, Angel said.
"What happens in next couple of months will be crucial," said Derek Winstanley, chief of the Illinois State Water Survey.
On the bright side, conditions in East Central Illinois have been looking pretty good in recent months compared with drier areas to the north. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of central Illinois is considered abnormally dry or in a moderate drought. The north is still in a severe drought stage.
The Champaign-Urbana region is down about 10 inches for precipitation from March 1, 2005, Angel said.
"It sounds terrible for us, but we've caught up quite a bit through the fall and winter," Angel said.
Demand for water is down – things aren't growing – so the soil moisture has had time to recover, Angel said.
Soil moisture is not looking that good in areas from the Wisconsin border to central Illinois, researchers noted.
"The surface layer is quite moist. It's the layer 3 to 6 feet down where we're still seeing major deficiencies," Winstanley said. And roots of crops will extend that far down.
A good sign: Rain fell on much of Illinois today, Winstanley said.
In a typical winter, Illinois receives about 2 to 3 inches of rain; that increases to 4 inches during the spring, Winstanley said.
Last spring many storms bypassed the state, raining north or south of Illinois.
"It was just the way the weather patterns lined up in the spring. Then in the summer, once we got dry, it was hard to get undry," Angel said.
If you're hoping for rain, look for 'L's on the weather maps. They signify low-pressure systems, which tend to bring a lot of moisture into the area and cause widespread rains. A whole region could get soaked.