Dryness Across Northern and Central Illinois

After a wet start to the 2014 growing season, we have seen a significant drop in rainfall across parts of northern and central Illinois in the last few weeks. Here is the 30-day rainfall as a percent of average. Areas in the orange are 25 to 75 percent of average while the areas in red are less than 25 percent of average. There are reports of soil moisture running low in some areas. On the other hand, southern Illinois has received above-average rainfall in the last 30 days.

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Besides the switch from too wet to too dry in northern and central Illinois, and too much rain in southern Illinois, the other issue is that temperatures have been running about 4 degrees below average for the past 30 days. We are getting some heat this week. However, the longer-term forecasts indicate a return to cooler temperatures and more rain after this week through September 1.

If you look at the last 90 days the heavier rains in June and early July masks the recent dryness (map below). In fact, at the 90 day time scale rainfall in Illinois is generally at or above long-term average (1981-2010), as denoted by the grays and greens. This is one of the challenges of drought monitoring – sorting out short-term dryness versus long-term wetness or vice versa.

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Cool July – Cool August?

As we approach the end of July the statewide average temperature in Illinois is 70.6 degrees, which currently puts it in second place for the coldest July on record. I will post more on this at the end of the week.

Here is how the previous top 10 coldest July temperatures for Illinois looked and what happened in the following August (table below). In 8 out of the 10 cases, the following August was colder than average. However, two of those “colder” August’s were marginally so (1924 and 1996). The one spectacular reversal was in 1947, where August was 7.2 degrees above average after the 3rd coldest July. Therefore there is a historical tendency for cooler weather to prevail into August.

 

Temperature (degrees F)
Year July August August Departure
2009 70.3 70.9 -2.7
1924 71.1 73.2 -0.4
1967 71.7 68.2 -5.4
1971 71.9 71.6 -2.0
1950 72.0 69.2 -4.4
1915 72.2 66.9 -6.7
1947 72.3 80.8  7.2
1904 72.4 69.8 -3.8
1905 72.5 74.1  0.5
1996 72.6 73.5 -0.1

We are using the 1981-2010 average for August (73.6 degrees) as the benchmark for this comparison. Statewide records go back to 1895.

The NWS forecasts are pointing towards a colder than average start to August, based on the latest 6-10 and 8-14 day forecasts.

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March Cold and Dry in Illinois

Based on preliminary data, March 2014 in Illinois was cold and dry.

Temperature

The statewide average temperature was 33.8 degrees, which was 7 degrees below average and the 8th coldest March on record. Combined with the colder-than-average January and February made this the 4th coldest start (23.6 degrees) for Illinois for the year to date.

This was the fifth month in a row with temperatures much below average in Illinois. At this point, it was the second coldest November-March on record for Illinois at 29.1 degrees. See the bar graph below showing monthly temperature departures since January 2013.

If this cold March felt familiar, it was because last March was cold as well. The statewide average temperature for March 2013 was only 34.1 degrees.

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Precipitation

The statewide average precipitation was 1.49 inches, which strangely enough was 1.49 inches below average and the 11th driest on record. The statewide average precipitation last March was much higher at 2.74 inches. Eight out of the last nine months have had below-average precipitation. As a result, the statewide precipitation departure since July 1 was 7.2 inches.

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The first map below is the accumulated precipitation for March (rain plus the water content of any snow event). Most of the state received between 1 to 2 inches of precipitation. It was wettest in the far south and driest in the northwest.

The second map shows the precipitation departures from average for March, showing all areas of the state with below-average precipitation. This would be of more concern if March had been warm. However, with the colder conditions very little drying took place.

Snowfall

The third map shows the snowfall for March. Amounts were in the 1 to 5 inch range in the southern half of the state and 5 to 15 inches or more in the northern half. Mendota reported the highest monthly total of 17.9 inches.

The fourth map shows the snowfall departure from average for March. The entire state was above-average on snowfall for the month. While it seems like a contradiction to report above-average snowfall and below-average precipitation for March, it really is not. The problem is that we have had few rainfall events in March, which was unusual. So we ended up with a lot of snow but the water content of all that snow did not make up for the lack of rain. map_btd

 

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First Half of March – Cold and Dry

Winter’s grip on Illinois is slowly releasing. However, we remain cold and dry for March. The statewide average temperature for March 1-16, 2014, was 30.3 degrees, which is almost 8 degrees below average. The good news is that the average, or normal, temperatures are climbing rapidly through the month. As a result, being 8 degrees below average in mid-March is still warmer than this winter. The NWS Climate Prediction Center 6-10 and 8-14 day forecasts show the below-average temperatures to continue through the end of March.

Besides the cooler temperatures, another concern at this point is the below-average precipitation (in shades of yellow and orange) for March so far. This is true not only across Illinois but much of the Midwest.

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March Precipitation Departure from Average (inches). Click to enlarge.

Below are the 90-day precipitation departures from average. Above-average precipitation (shaded in green) can be found in IL, IN, OH, and MI, due for the most part to our generous snows and a few rain events. However, parts of southeastern IL are 1.5 to 3 inches below average. This is part of a larger area of dryness covering Missouri and parts of KS, OK, and AR. Of course this pattern could change quickly as we get out of winter and into spring. A few good spring rains could erase most of this deficit. In the meantime, we will be watching this area closely.

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February Seventh Coldest on Record

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Flooded farm field in east-central Illinois after a period of snowmelt and rainfall in the third week of February, 2014.

Based on preliminary data, the Illinois statewide temperature for February was 18.7 degrees. That was 12.1 degrees below the long-term average and the seventh coldest February on record. No surprise there.

The statewide average temperature for the three core winter months of December, January, and February was 20.8 degrees. That was 8.2 degrees below average and the fourth coldest December-February period on record. Incidentally, it is in a 3-way tie with 1917-18 and 1976-77. The coldest winter was 1977-78 at 19.6 degrees. The winter of 1978-79 was in second place at 19.9 degrees. Overall, this winter was comparable to those in the late 1970s.

Below is the table of the ten coldest February’s on record for Illinois. It’s really hard to beat those cold February’s in the late 1970s. The 1981-2010 statewide average is 30.8 degrees.

Rank Year Avg.
1 1978 16.9
2 1979 17.5
3 1936 17.7
4 1905 17.8
5 1895 18.1
6 1899 18.5
7 2014 18.7
8 1902 19.3
9 1914 20.9
10 1958 21.4

Here are the ten coldest December-February periods in Illinois since 1895. The 1981-2010 statewide average is 29.0 degrees.

Rank Year Avg.
1 1977-1978 19.6
2 1978-1979 19.9
3 1935-1936 20.6
4 1917-1918 20.8
4 1976-1977 20.8
4 2013-2014 20.8
5 1903-1904 21.6
6 1962-1963 21.9
6 1904-1905 21.9
7 1981-1982 22.8

The snowfall for February was above average across the state. The total snowfall ranged from 4 inches in far southern Illinois to 15-20 inches in north-central Illinois. The snowfall departures from average ranged from 1-5 inches south of Interstate 70 and between 10 and 18 inches between Interstates 70 and 80.

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The statewide precipitation for February was 2.28 inches. That was just 0.17 inches above average. Precipitation includes both rain events along with the water content of any snowfall. The result in February was that the above-average snowfall did not translate to above-average precipitation because several of those snowfall events occurred in colder conditions when snow density is lower (i.e, fluffier).

By the way, here are the snowfall totals for the entire snowfall season. You may recall that we saw snow flurries back in October and some measurable snow in November. Some of largest snowfall totals this winter are in the Chicago area and include Lincolnwood with 79.8 inches and Oak Park with 78.6 inches.

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Frost Depth in Illinois

One of the effects of this exceptionally cold winter has been that our soils have remained frozen at considerable depths. We have hourly soil temperatures under grass at 19 sites across the state at 4 and 8 inches, available through the WARM website, that give us glimpses of soil conditions.

Here are snapshots of the daily low soil temperature at 4 inches yesterday and a week ago when temperatures were much warmer. The 4-inch temperature responded to the warmer weather and showed signs of thawing before re-freezing this week. In many parts of the state, the 8-inch soil temperatures remained frozen during this period. Click on each map to enlarge.

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Soil temperatures depend on soil types, soil moisture, vegetation, snowcover, and exposure. In general, drier soils warm up and cool faster than wet soils. Both vegetation and snow can insulate the soil for air temperature extremes. I recall the morning of January 5, 1999, when we had a foot of snow on the ground and an air temperature of 25 degrees below zero. Because the winter had been mild up to that week, the soil temperature at 4 inches was 32 degrees, a difference of 57 degrees between 4 inches below ground and 5 feet above ground!

While the above site tracks temperatures at specific depths, the NOAA North Central River Forecast Center maintains a web site with observed frost-depths in Illinois and points to the north. For most of this winter, the frost depth has run in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 inches across Illinois with a few sites going deeper. Here is a screenshot of this morning’s map. While it doesn’t work on the screen shot, you can mouse-over the points on the map on the website and see the individual reports.

North Central River Forecast SoilT

Finally, Wayne Wendland, the former State Climatologist for Illinois, did a frost-depth study in Illinois using data collected from grave diggers from 1980 to 1996. He developed a network of sites across Illinois through the Illinois Cemetery Association and provided post cards that the grave diggers filled out every two weeks in winter. They noted frost depth, soil moisture, soil texture, ground cover, and exposure. The deepest observed frost depths during this period ranged from 5 inches in far southern Illinois to 30 inches in far northern Illinois. The results were published in the Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science (pdf).

Cold Start to February

The first 5 days of February were almost 9 degrees below the long-term average for the state of Illinois. Along with the cold weather has been widespread snow as the map below shows. Snowfall amounts ranged from 2-4 inches in southern Illinois to 10-12 inches in an area between Quincy and Kankakee.

The cold, snowy weather across the Midwest has caused salt supplies to run low and has strained budgets for snow removal. Some communities have resorted to creative solutions, such as this report on CNN.  While I have not  seen any statistics beyond those from single storms, I am sure that the number of winter weather car accidents is well above average for this winter.

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The new outlook from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center for February came out over the weekend. Their prediction is for an increased chance of colder-than-average weather across the central US, including all of Illinois (first map below). They also predict an increased chance of above-average precipitation for much of southern and central Illinois. Some of that could fall as rain but it is most likely to fall as snow (second map below).

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