Experts: Iowa’s drought likely to last through crop season

By: - March 5, 2021 11:09 am

Climate experts predict Iowa’s drought will continue through the crop season. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Iowa’s drought is likely to last at least through the early part of the crop season, a panel of experts said this week.

“It is very possible that we will have some ongoing drought issues throughout the year,” said Dennis Todey, director of the Midwest Climate Hub at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Spring rains and snowmelt could improve soil moisture, but western and extreme northern Iowa are likely to fight dry conditions through the crop season, he added.

Dennis Todey is director of the Midwest Climate Hub in Ames. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture)

“As we look further into the warm season, the growing season, with the current dry conditions we have potential future problems. We could have those problems continue through the growing season,” Todey said.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, using data through Tuesday, showed extreme drought in far northwest Iowa. Many of the western and extreme northern counties in the state are abnormally dry or in moderate to severe drought, the report showed. 

The percentage of the state officially in drought rose 2 percentage points in the last week, to 10.83%. A year ago, none of the state was in drought, and floods were threatening wide areas. Drought moved in later in the year.

Iowa is on the edge of a western U.S. area that is expected to have a chance of warmer-than-usual weather this summer, Todey said. That could worsen the drought situation, as will slightly drier conditions caused by La Niña, a phenomenon associated with colder-than-normal surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. 

“We’re still very dry,” Todey said. “We had a lot of snow, and a little bit of improvement, but we are still very dry, especially in our soils in northwest Iowa. 

“Some spring recovery is possible but we will be very unlikely to fix things in the spring. It’s very possible that we have some ongoing drought issues throughout the year,” Todey added.

Mike Naig is Iowa secretary of agriculture. (Photo courtesy of state of Iowa)

Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said he recently was in southwest Iowa, where farms are still recovering from heavy flooding in 2019. Now, a second year of drought issues seems likely. 

“It just once again reminds me of what a difference a year can make in so many ways,” said Naig, whose family farm is in drought-stricken Palo Alto County. 

State Climatologist Justin Glisan said the snowpack could add an inch or two of moisture to the mix, not a lot overall. But the melt has been relatively slow, which helps soil soak up what moisture is available. 

Spring rains will be critical. 

“We’re going to need timely rainfalls repeatedly, getting into the growing season, to help chip away at those (moisture) deficits and at the drought conditions,” Glisan said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources posts regular updates on water levels, climate summaries and moisture conditions in cooperation with other departments.

Part of northwest Iowa is in severe drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports. (Image courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor)

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.