With harvest season well underway, farmers across the state are seeing how their crops fared during one of Wisconsin’s driest years in recent history.

Following five straight weeks of improved drought conditions, Rock County’s lack of precipitation has dropped the area back down to the “severe drought” category. According to data published by the U.S. Drought Monitor for the last two weeks of September, the percentage of the county experiencing severe drought conditions jumped from 19% to 75%.

Recent rainfall isn’t expected to improvement conditions. If anything, the precipitation that fell Sept. 21-28 maintained the status quo.

Sarah Marquardt, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service’s Milwaukee office doubts what little rainfall did fall last week will move the needle for the county.

“I think the severe drought (status) put in last week is a good assessment,” she said. “I don’t expect any changes.”

Marquardt noted that while farmers prefer dry days during the end of the season and don’t rely on the rain as much after they’ve harvested crops, rain over the next several months would be critical.

“We are expecting more changes to (weather) patterns looking up,” she said. “There is a possibility for improvement over the next few weeks.”

Despite the encouraging signs, even an elevated chance of precipitation in the near future isn’t going to help reverse course. “I don’t think the drought will completely go away in the next few weeks or months just because the longer term deficits are pretty high,” Marquardt said.

Things are not all doom and gloom, however, as winter is forecast to bring a warmer and wetter weather system due to an expected climate pattern known as La Nina.

“In simple terms, this means below normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, and that’s correlated to the weather over the United States,” Marquardt said.

If this forecast comes to fruition, she said it will lead to a wetter winter for Rock County. A wetter winter could mean relief for rain-starved soils and bodies of water that dipped below average levels. In a region where deficits total anywhere from 9 to 14.5 inches since the beginning of the year, a more temperate end to the year could be welcomed.

“Anything we get in the winter will help bring deficits back closer to normal and help replenish the soil moisture,” Marquardt said. “But if it’s snow, it will just be sitting there waiting for spring to recharge things.”

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