Drought is projected to lift from most of Iowa

By: - May 18, 2023 2:06 pm

Drought conditions are improving and are expected to be largely alleviated by year’s end. (Courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor)

A newly released drought outlook predicts that the widespread dryness that has plagued Iowa for about three years will mostly subside later this year.

The federal Climate Prediction Center’s latest seasonal outlook on Thursday shows the footprint of drought is likely to shrink to a relatively small area in far western Iowa that has long been the driest in the state.

“This is the trend that we want to see and the direction that we want to move in,” said Justin Glisan, the state climatologist.

April 2020 was the last time no part of Iowa was abnormally dry or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

A region in northwest Iowa that has been plagued by severe drought shrank about 75% thanks to heavy rainfall last week. The area is still experiencing varying degrees of drought, but for the first time in eight months a small pocket of exceptional drought — the worst classification — south of Sioux City has vanished.

Glisan recently noted that several areas of the state last week had between 2 and 6 inches of rain more than what is normally expected.

The heaviest rain fell across a large swath of northern Iowa. It caused the surface level of rivers to rise many feet, and minor flooding was reported of the Little Sioux River near Milford and Spencer, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Glisan said the moisture that will help cast away the drought in the coming months will be driven by an El Nino weather pattern that is expected to develop in the coming weeks, which results from warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the Earth’s equator.

Statewide, drought conditions have diminished to their least severe in 10 months. About 26% of the state is classified as having some sort of drought, down from about 31% last week.

The Drought Monitor’s weekly assessments are based on weather data, soil-moisture indicators, the movement of surface water and local observations. They use four classifications of drought: moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional.

Crops can suffer some damage from moderate drought, whereas widespread crop losses are possible with exceptional drought.

Despite the dryness, Iowa corn yield averages in the past two years were among the highest ever for the state. However, there were fields in northwest Iowa last year that had abysmal yields.

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.

Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.