CHAMPAIGN — All signs are pointing to a better growing season for central Illinois farmers in 2013.
The Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service says that Illinois has an increased chance of above-average precipitation for March and for the three-month period through May.
Further, the National Drought Early Warning Outlook, produced by a number of federal agencies, says that Illinois has shown significant recovery from last summer's drought and that the chances for continued improvement are high.
Finally, Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel said that weather records show that the chance of consecutive drought years is remote.
Last year was the 10th-driest in Illinois since 1895. Statewide precipitation for the year averaged 30.34 inches, nearly 10 inches below normal. The Champaign-Urbana total was better, however, with 34.46 inches of precipitation, almost 7 inches below normal.
"If you look at the 10 driest years in Illinois since 1895," said Angel, "none of them were back to back to each other. That is comforting news."
And of the top 10 drought years (excluding 2012), Angel found that six were followed by close-to-average precipitation. Two of the top nine drought years, however, were followed up by years that were among the 16 driest.
1963 had precipitation almost 12 inches below normal, and 1964's total was 8 inches below normal. Similarly, 1988 was 10.24 inches below normal, and 1989 was 7.36 inches below normal.
"On one hand, you could say that historically there has been a 44 percent chance (four out of nine cases) of having above-average precipitation in the year after a 'top 10' drought year," Angel said. "Or you could say that there has been a 67 percent chance (six out of nine cases) of being within 10 percent of the long-term average precipitation (39.95 inches) in the year after a 'top 10' drought year."
The weather service, meanwhile, is forecasting above-normal precipitation.
"For March we've got about a 40 to 45 percent chance of normal precipitation across Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan," said Kirk Huttl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. "For the spring outlook, in March, April and May, there's a 45 percent chance of both above-average temperatures and precipitation.
"So it looks like we're going to have a wet, mild spring. It's at least leaning in that direction."
For the summer months — June, July and August — the weather service is predicting above-average temperatures, with equal chances of above, below and normal precipitation.
"If we get into a wet spring, it will definitely help us out. We've actually been in a wetter pattern this winter, so it looks like that may continue into the spring months," Huttl said. "Coming out of a wet winter and continuing to a wet spring probably will help the soil moisture, even if we go into a drier, hotter summer. That might help the crops, unlike last year."
Following last July's extremely dry conditions — just 0.61 of an inch of rain in Champaign-Urbana — precipitation was above average for five of the next seven months.
The weather service's Drought Monitor map shows that only northwestern Illinois is in a moderate drought; the rest of the state, including East Central Illinois, has adequate soil moisture. And even the northwestern section of the state likely is headed for improvement.