By Jared Strong
Drought conditions improved again in the past week and are, on average, the best they’ve been in Iowa since late August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The most significant soil moisture gains happened over a large area of northwest Iowa, where rainfall has been well above average, State Climatologist Justin Glisan said.
“Over the last month, we’ve seen precipitation up there of 200% plus,” he said. “Some pockets up there approached 300% of normal. When you’re seeing that much rainfall, gentle rainfall, you’re chipping away at those longer-term precipitation deficits.”
About 81% of the state is suffering from some measure of drought, the Drought Monitor reported Thursday. That’s the smallest percentage since late August. It peaked this fall at about 97%.
But there continue to be significant disparities in soil moisture across the state. A large area of eastern Iowa that stretches from the state’s northern border to its southern border has extreme drought — the second-to-worst classification. And that’s despite widespread rainfall of more than an inch last week in most of that area.
“It’s not enough to overcome those longer precipitation deficits that we’ve seen,” Glisan said.
He said preliminary data show that October rainfall in Iowa averaged about a half inch more than normal. That’s the first time the state notched above-normal rainfall in nine months.
Drought conditions are expected to improve for much of the state through January, according to the federal Climate Prediction Center.
Parts of Iowa have suffered from drought since July 2020, the longest stretch since the U.S. Drought Monitor formed more than 20 years ago.
The widespread drought of 2012 and 2013 was more severe but shorter lived. That had a significant impact on crop yields.
Yields have been far better in the past two years — at or close to record highs — but the drought’s persistence has taken a toll on deeper soil moisture.
“We are starting to see, with the longevity of the drought, water scarcity issues,” Glisan said. “Wells are drying up. Osceola is having some water issues with its reservoir being particularly low.”
Osceola Water Works, in south-central Iowa, recently declared a water emergency because of the shallowness of West Lake, from which it draws water for more than 5,000 people. The lake is a constructed reservoir, and water has not flowed over its spillway for three years. Its surface level is about six feet lower than normal.