Despite the above-average snowfall and rainfall in January, February and the first days of March, the Quad-City area remains abnormally dry on the U.S. Drought Monitor last week.
That is an improvement over the week before when the area was in a moderate drought.
Meteorologist Tom Olsen of the National Weather Service, Davenport, said that what is kept the Quad-City area abnormally dry in the latest drought report is that the frost remains about
6 inches deep in many areas, so the water cannot soak in.
“That’s why the rivers rose,” Olsen said Saturday. “There’s only a little bit of the top soil that is melted, so once that’s saturated, the water just runs off.”
What could be worrisome for farmers is that in some parts of the area, the ground below the frost layer is “dryer than anything,” he said.
With below-normal temperatures projected for March, Olsen said the frost layer will be slow to melt.
“We’re usually in the middle 40s by this time in March,” he said. “We’re only seeing 30s for highs for the next week. Hopefully, we’ll see the frost gradually melt and allow the rains we get in April to soak in.”
The Quad-City area has been in a wet period for several months. Already for March, the Quad-Cities has received 2.22 inches of rain and 5.7 inches of snow. Normal rainfall for the month is
2.86 inches while normal snowfall is 4 inches, according to National Weather Service statistics.
In February, the Quad-Cities received 2.54 inches of rain, where the normal is 1.6 inches. Also, 14.3 inches of snow fell in February. The normal snowfall for the month is 6.8 inches.
January saw a total rainfall of 2.86 inches, with the normal being 1.49 inches. The month was below average on snow with 4.3 inches for the month. The normal is 9.4 inches.
Agronomist Virgil Schmitt of the Iowa State University Extension Office in Muscatine said he has been on some farms where the subsurface drainage tiles are running with water.
“Those tile lines are below the frost so that’s a sign that the soil down below is totally saturated,” Schmitt said. “But there are other areas where it remains very dry down deep.”
It is vital to get that deep soil moisture back before planting season, particularly if farmers decide to plant more corn this year, he said.
“Corn has a determinate growth pattern where it goes from one stage, to the next stage, to the next,” Schmitt said. “If one of those steps gets screwed up, the plant has difficulty doing the next thing.
“Because of that, corn is much more sensitive to short-term growth stress than soybeans, which have an indeterminate growth pattern.
That is why soybeans can withstand so much stress, such as a drought.
Too much stress in terms of another drought without the deep water last year’s corn crop relied upon could mean a poorer corn harvest in 2013 than in 2012, he said.
“The markets are still suggesting that farmers will plant a little more corn this year than soybeans,” Schmitt said.
Most of east central Iowa and south central Iowa is abnormally dry, the drought monitor shows. The middle of the state remains in the moderate to severe drought range. The north central portion and the far northwestern areas of Iowa are in an extreme drought.
Most of Illinois is normal, except for the northern one-third of the state, which is either abnormally dry or suffering from moderate drought conditions.