Rock County drought conditions improve from 'severe' to 'moderate'

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Monday, February 25, 2013

— In case you need a silver lining to brighten your Monday morning, here it is:

Snowfall so far in February has been above average. Because of this, drought conditions in south-central Wisconsin this month improved from “severe” to “moderate,” according to U.S. Drought Monitor data.

That change is a ray of hope for farmers who saw big losses last year as a result of the drought conditions, said Jim Stute, UW Extension crops and soils agent in Rock County.

Also in the “seems -like-bad-news-but-really-it’s-good” category are the below-average temperatures for February. If conditions hold, there should be fewer insect pests in Rock County gardens and farm fields this summer, Stute said.

As of Friday, the National Weather Service measured 15.3 inches of snow in southern Rock County in February, meteorologist Ed Townsend said. The average snowfall for February is 6.3 inches, Townsend said.

“What it does is erases some of the long-term (moisture) deficit,” Stute said.

Rock County soils need about 6 inches of rain in the next few months to meet normal growing conditions, Stute said. The snowfalls won’t add up to that much rainfall, but they are a start, he said.

It’s typical for a drought year to be followed by a dry year, Stute said. That’s a scary thought for many farmers who need a good crop to make up for last year’s losses, he said.

Looking forward into March, the above-average precipitation trend could hold, Townsend said.

“There are enhanced probabilities of above-normal precipitation,” he said.

Forecasters predict a 40 percent chance of above-normal precipitation as opposed to a 33 percent chance of normal precipitation, Townsend said.

In addition to above-average snowfall, daily average temperatures in February have been lower than normal, Townsend said. This year, the average has been 18.7 degrees compared to the typical 24.5 degrees, he said.

Those temperatures will maintain the frost line or even push it deeper, Stute said. Either way, it will mean higher insect mortality compared to last year when temperatures were in the 40s in late February.

The cold has helped maintain a blanket of snow over the ground, Stute said. In that case, the ground will thaw from the bottom up, as it does in a normal year. That reduces runoff in fields and ditches, Stute said.

All the conditions are encouraging at this point, Stute said.

“This is looking like a more normal-type season,” he said.

Last updated: 8:07 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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