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Another drought?

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 3:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 4:00 p.m. CDT

Bureau County residents and farmers may have some good news on the horizon when it comes to the possibility of having another drought like the one that plagued the area last summer.

When looking at the Top 10 driest years in Illinois since 1895, Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel said weather records show none of those drought years were back-to-back to each other, which is comforting news. The 2012 year is listed as the 10th driest year on record statewide in Illinois.

However, looking at the years following the Top 10 drought years, Angel said the 1963-64 and 1988-89 years were noteworthy. While the second year in both cases were not as severe in their precipitation deficits, and none of them made it into the Top 10, the numbers are still worrisome. In fact, 1964 ended up as the 14th driest and 1989 as the 16th driest on record, he said.

Based on the overall records, Angel said there is a 33 percent chance of having continued drought trouble in the second year following a Top 10 drought year.

On Monday, WQAD meteorologist James Zahara agreed with Angel’s research into the chance of having two drought years in a row, which he said is unlikely.

Looking specifically at the 2012-13 years, Zahara said what making this recent winter a bit different from last winter is the fact the ground is not frozen in many spots across the state.

“Even though we’ve been lacking in snowfall, we’re doing slightly better than average for rainfall,” Zahara said. “The key is to saturate the subsoil, which is below grass roots. Keep that wet through spring, and we’re talking comforting news for farmers.”

The seasonal outlook through April is leaning toward a higher than normal chance of wetter than normal conditions, Zahara said.

“Keep your fingers crossed,” he said. “A pressure ridge is building over Greenland which allows to strengthen the jet (stream) located along the southern states and Gulf Coast, thus making it more active as far as precipitation is concerned.”

In a related factor, Zahara said there is also research which indicates the limited snowfall these past couple of years have pointed toward global warming. A warmer global atmosphere decreases the amount of snowfall each year, but it also allows the atmosphere to hold and dump more moisture. When the air is cold enough, the extra moisture in the air can create extreme snow amounts from one storm.

“What this all means is less snow but more blizzard-like storms,” Zahara said. “The same may hold true through the warmer seasons with less innocent showers and more tornado-producing thunderstorms. Time will tell.”

Looking at this week’s forecast, Zahara said the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for numerous Iowa and Illinois counties, including Bureau and Putnam, in anticipation of today’s (Tuesday’s) snow storm. The storm is expected to begin locally early Tuesday morning and continue throughout the day and evening hours. An estimated 4 to 7 inches of snow accumulation is possible in the watch area, with up to 10 inches in the storm warning area.

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