OTTUMWA — Iowa hoped for rain last summer after a drought parched the state in 2012. What it got was another dry summer, and the state entered the winter months with widespread drought.
Conditions have improved some, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but those gains may be slipping away. March rainfall totaled less than a quarter of the normal amount in Ottumwa, and April brought some rain but still short of the historical average.
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said March did no favors for most of Iowa, but that didn’t hurt as much as what you might think. The ground was still largely frozen after an unusually bitter winter, so rainfall would have had a hard time getting into the soil.
In fact, he said, the last of the frost finally left the ground in southeastern Iowa just over the past week. Areas of northern Iowa still have several feet of frozen soil.
Hillaker called the state’s weather “amazingly persistent,” saying the trend has generally been for drier and warmer weather to the west, with wetter and colder weather to the east. But both of those are relative. No one in Iowa had what could be called a warm winter. And wetter in this case just means slightly less dry.
This week’s report from the monitor shows no change from last week. Since the report is based on data collected up to Tuesday, it doesn’t include the 0.18 inches of rain that has fallen on the Ottumwa area beginning Wednesday. While it was welcome, it was still short of what forecasters had expected.
“This last storm was something of a disappointment as far as rain goes,” Hillaker said.
While this little rain is unusual, it’s hardly unprecedented. Similarly dry starts to the year happened in 2000, 2003 and 2005. Those years didn’t have major droughts. You have to go back 20 years to find the last time southeast Iowa got off to a start significantly drier than this year, Hillaker said.
But with spring weather in 2014 starting out dry, you have to start wondering whether Iowa is in line for yet another year of crippling drought. Hillaker said there’s just not enough to go on yet.
It’s something to be aware of, he said, to know about. But worry about the dry run is still premature.