Iowa’s drought could affect ’21 planting season despite predictions for a snowy winter

A farmer works a field in northwest Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa has a good chance of normal to above-normal temperatures through the end of next year after getting nearly 4 inches less precipitation over the past year, climatologists report. 

That could mean continued trouble with drought and low stream levels, even with forecasts for extra snow this winter.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says there is a 69% chance Iowa will see normal or above-normal temperatures the rest of the year. Next year will bring much of the same, with the chance of cooler-than-normal temperatures running from 34% to 27% depending on the month, with the odds dropping later in the year. 

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center says Iowa has a higher than normal chance of a snowy winter in 2020-21. (Image courtesy of Climate Prediction Center)

That prediction comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration follows La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean. La Niña, which comes from cooler than normal waters in the Pacific, usually means colder and snowier than normal conditions during Iowa winters. 

“Generally, La Niña winters in the southern tier of the U.S. tend to be warmer and drier, while the northern tier and Canada tend to be colder,” the weather service reported.

And, in fact, the weather service is predicting that all but the southwest corner of Iowa is likely to get more snow than usual at least through February.

If your meteorological tastes run more to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, its staff predicts Iowa will be warmer than usual, but with more snow and rain this winter. 

“If you were hoping for a reprieve from harsh winter weather this year, we have some news that just might make you smile. We’re predicting a light winter for most of us here in the United States, with warmer-than-normal temperatures in the forecast for a large part of the country,” the Almanac reported.

The information is more clear in the rear-view mirror. 

Iowa state weather and natural resource workers this week reported that the state’s precipitation was down 11.9%, or 3.76 inches below normal for the year ending Sept. 30. The record keepers use that period because it ends at harvest, and any precipitation after that goes into the next growing season’s supply. 

The total precipitation for the year was 31.51 inches. Temperature averaged 0.5 degrees above normal. 

While most of the state battled drought at one point or another, the northeastern part of the state saw 3 to 9 inches more snow and rain than normal. Western Iowa, on the other hand, was down 10 to 18 inches of precipitation. 

Tim Hall, coordinator of hydrology resources for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said Iowa may struggle to have good moisture levels for the early part of next year’s crop season.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports most of Iowa is abnormally dry or in drought. (Map courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor)

“Conditions continue to become drier as we move into the fall months,” Hall said. “This causes some concern as we see decreases in average rainfall from October into November. Replenishing soil moisture and groundwater becomes more challenging as we move toward the winter months.” 

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the extreme northwest corner of the state in extreme drought. All but the eastern quarter of the state are in drought or drier than normal conditions.

Temperatures were slightly cooler than normal in September, on average. Rain averaged 0.68 inches above the 30-year average, at 4.06 inches.

Read the state’s full water report.