OTTUMWA — The U.S. Drought Monitor still considers southeast Iowa “abnormally dry,” but drought conditions took a big step toward the area in its last report.
The report shows the percentage of Iowa in moderate drought rose from less than 1 percent to 16.5 percent in one week, concentrated in western Iowa. Rain last Tuesday and Wednesday boosted much of southeast Iowa to near-normal levels for August, but that didn't last. Totals were a half-inch below normal by midday Monday.
How much have things changed this year? From March through May, Ottumwa was 10.08 inches ahead of normal precipitation and Iowa endured the wettest spring in recorded history. From June 1 to Aug. 12, precipitation was 6.24 inches below normal.
The National Weather Service gives the Ottumwa area no significant chance of rain through next Sunday. The same can be said for Centerville to the southwest and Knoxville to the northwest. If that holds true, the area will be well over an inch shy of normal August rainfall.
Rain teased the area on Monday, but the storms stopped right at the Missouri border and left most of the area dry. The dry weather is having an impact on the Des Moines River, which is expected to hover at around 1.5 feet in Ottumwa for the foreseeable future.
The dry weather led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut its forecast for corn this year. The USDA's experts now believe farmers will harvest 13.8 billion bushels of corn, still a record. The yield won't set records, though, as it's now projected at 154.4 bushels per acre. That's still the third-highest yield on record.
Soybean production was estimated at 3.26 billion bushels for the year, a rise of 8 percent over 2012. The yield is expected to be 42.6 bushels per acre, up three bushels from 2012.
A USDA report released Monday afternoon underscores the issues farmers face. Less than half of the corn in Iowa has reached the milk stage; it's usually 72 percent by this time of year. Still, almost half the crop rates as good or excellent. Soybeans show similar delays and conditions.
The drier weather is having clear effects on the soil as well. The USDA says most of the state's topsoil now rates short or very short on moisture. Subsoil is in slightly better shape, since it takes longer to dry out, but 39 percent of subsoil rates as short of moisture.
Southeast Iowa is in worse shape than the statewide average. Fifty-seven percent of topsoil rates as short or very short, while 58 percent of subsoil falls into those categories.
There is good news is in the forecast: It should be cooler than normal. Forecast highs are in the upper 70s to around 80, about five degrees below normal. The cooler air won't dry out the ground quite as fast as normal temperatures would.