Rain that began falling Thursday afternoon and continues into today is more than welcome as the U.S. Drought Monitor reports a lack of critically needed subsoil moisture across the Midwest, and particularly in the Quad-City area.
Moderate to severe drought continues to plague eastern Iowa and western Illinois, National Weather Service meteorologist Ray Wolf reported in a drought analysis issued Thursday.
But there is some good news. Enough rain has fallen on relatively unfrozen ground that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports topsoil moisture has recovered to adequate amounts in about half the area.
The deficiency in subsoil moisture is troublesome to farmers, said Iowa State University Extension agronomist Virgil Schmitt.
“A lot of people are getting antsy,” he said. “I was talking to somebody at the Moline airport doing some trenching recently and he told me the top foot of soil was wet but it went dry after that.
“I’ve also talked to construction people in the region and in some areas where they are digging foundations or footings for buildings, normally where they bring up muck they’re bringing up powder.”
Although snowfall in the Quad-City area is ahead of last season’s accumulation at this point on the calendar, the outlook isn’t promising for those hoping to add to subsoil moisture.
Meteorologist Tom Olsen of the National Weather Service, Davenport, said there is nothing in the immediate outlook that would send people scrambling for their shovels and snow blowers.
“We’re doing better than last year,” he said. “Last year at this time we had only had 1.4 inches of snow since the start of the meteorological year, July 1. This year we’ve already had 5.5 inches.
“There’s always a silver lining to things,” he said.
In a normal season, on Jan. 11, the Quad-Cities has 3.1 inches of snow on the ground and has seen total accumulation of 13.6 inches since the beginning of the meterological year.
Schmitt, the extension agronomist, said there are two good indicators of weather that Midwest farmers should be looking for.
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“There is a big, sweeping high pressure system called the Bermuda High that slides to the east during our winter and sits off the coast of Africa,” he said. “In our spring and summer months, it slides to the west and parks over the Bermuda Islands.
“That system is what pushes moisture into the Mississippi Valley,” he said. “It did not set up in its normal place last year, staying east of the Bermudas. If it doesn’t move back to the west by tax day, April 15, that’s a bad omen.”
Also, Schmitt said, the weather Arkansas receives in March is often similar to the weather this area experiences in April. “What they have in April, we then have in May,” he said.
“Winter starts to recede here in six to eight weeks, so we’re hoping that come March and April there are some strong Gulf winds that bring lots of rain to the area.”
With an expected high of about 53 degrees today, combined with some drizzle and gusty southwest winds, it should feel more like March than the second week of January in the Quad-Cities.
Saturday’s high is expected to be around 40 degrees.
A change in the weather is coming Saturday night, with Sunday’s high only in the mid-20s.