OTTUMWA — Iowa's drought situation improved in the new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor as the map began showing the effects of a rainy couple weeks.
Most of the changes in the map focus on northern Iowa, where the areas that have fallen completely out of drought increased substantially. More than 8 percent of the state is now free of any drought designation and more than a quarter of Iowa rates no higher than abnormally dry, the monitor's least-serious category.
That's all good news, but the worst of the drought didn't shift. A patch in west-central Iowa remains in extreme drought, the monitor's second-highest designation. And most of southeast Iowa remained in severe drought.
The arrival of fall has brought some rains back to the area. Ottumwa received more than eight-tenths of an inch of rain in the last two weeks of September — more than half the month's total. Another 1.47 inches has already fallen in October, more than half of what the area usually sees in the entire month. It's encouraging, but not a guarantee of more rain to come.
Other parts of the region have seen substantial rains as well. Knoxville received more than a half inch last week, mostly on Friday, and records for Oskaloosa, Fairfield and Bloomfield show more.
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said earlier this week that the rain comes too late to help corn and soybeans, the state's two major crops, but that it should help farmers who plant cover crops to prevent erosion in their fields over the winter.
Rain returns to the forecast Friday night and again on Monday and Tuesday.
The regional picture looks better this week as well. Drought in the Midwest is most intense in Iowa and northern Missouri, but there are huge swaths of the region that are free of drought. Only a couple counties in Ohio are even considered dry, and Kentucky is entirely drought-free.