Illinois First Fall Freeze Climatology

Due to significant planting delays across most of the Midwest this year, I have heard many concerns about an early fall freeze and its potential effects on immature crops. Most plants experience damage from a hard freeze or “killing freeze”, which is typically designated by a daily minimum air temperature at or below 28°F. Even in normal growing seasons, an early fall freeze can cause considerable impacts and yield losses for crops. Delayed planting, as was the case this season, increases the risk of freeze damage because crops are less mature going into our normal fall freeze time.

The maps and summary below show first fall freeze dates across Illinois using temperature observations over the period 1979 to 2018. The maps show the earliest and latest fall freeze dates over this 40-year period, as well as the median date, which represents the middle value in the range of dates. The median is preferred over the mean or average, as it is less sensitive to very early or very late freeze dates. Also shown are the 10th (1 in 10 years) and 90th (9 in 10 years) fall freeze dates. All station temperature data were provided by the Midwest Regional Climate Center (; the shaded areas between stations on the map were interpolated and do not represent actual observations.

The earliest fall freeze dates over the past 40 years range from late September in northwest and central Illinois, to early October in southern and eastern Illinois. An early freeze anomaly can be seen at the Mt. Carroll station (Carroll County), which experienced a minimum temperature of 27°F on September 7, 1988. Interestingly, the observed all-season Illinois minimum temperature record was broken earlier this year at the Mt. Carroll station (-38°F).

Tenth percentile first fall freeze dates (i.e., 1 in 10 years) range from early October in northwest and central Illinois to mid- to late October in southern and eastern Illinois.

Median first fall freeze dates range from mid- to late October in northwest and central Illinois to late October/early November in southern and northeastern Illinois. Approximately half the years between 1979 and 2018 experienced the first fall freeze before the median dates. Also, the median dates map clearly shows the effects of the developed Chicagoland area on nighttime minimum temperatures. The median first fall freeze date at Chicago Midway is 10 to 15 days later than in some of the collar counties.

Ninetieth percentile first fall freeze dates (i.e., 9 in 10 years) range from early November in northwest and central Illinois to mid- to late November in southern Illinois. Based on the 40-year climatology, one could say that there is a 90% chance that the first fall freeze on any given year will occur on or before the dates in the 90th percentile map.

Finally, the latest first fall freeze dates across the state range from mid- to late November in northwest Illinois to early to mid-December in southern Illinois.

Note that air temperatures can vary considerably on smaller or micro-scales. For example, plants near heated buildings or other development can be spared when minimum temperatures dip below the 28°F threshold in the countryside. More information and useful freeze products are provided by the Midwestern Regional Climate Center as part of their Vegetation Impact Program (  Higher quality, full-page maps can be accessed by clicking the following links:

10th_Percentile 90th_Percentile Earliest Latest Median

Unequal August Precipitation Leads to Drought in Illinois

August 2019 will be remembered for remarkable differences in monthly precipitation totals across Illinois, as well as the first appearance of drought in the state since September 2018.

It would be inappropriate to summarize August 2019 precipitation across the state using only one adjective. Preliminary data suggest that August was drier than average across much of the state north of I-72 and south of I-64, while much wetter than average conditions prevailed between the two interstates. The preliminary average statewide precipitation was 4.21 inches, which is 0.61 inches below the long-term August average. The preliminary average statewide August temperature was 72.8 degrees, which is 0.7 degrees below the long-term average.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time

Precipitation & Drought

July 2019 was the first month since November 2018 that ended with below average statewide precipitation. Dryness in the northwest and east-central parts of the state that began in July persisted in August.

Areas in the south-central part of the state, particularly in the western extent of the St. Louis metro east, have received precipitation totals in August between 5 inches and 8 inches above normal, with a station near Patoka (Marion County) reporting the highest August rainfall total of 14.19 inches. Most areas of the state north of I-72 and south of I-64, in contrast, received below normal rainfall in August, in some cases up to 4 inches below normal. The driest area in August covered parts of Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties in east-central Illinois, where precipitation totals were less than 50 percent of their August normal (see maps below).


The continued dry conditions from July to August led the U.S. Drought Monitor to identify moderate drought (D1) in northwest and east-central Illinois in their August 13 map. This was the first time the Drought Monitor identified drought in Illinois since September 2018, which represents the largest number of consecutive, drought-free weeks (48) since the Drought Monitor began 20 years ago. The latest Drought Monitor map, from August 29, shows moderate drought persistence in northwest and east-central Illinois (see figure below).

The combination of late planting, due to flooding, and multi-week drought has stressed crops and farmers across central Illinois. Reports from Illinois Farm Bureau CropWatchers discuss corn dropping ears and beans dropping leaves in parts of Champaign County. The recent National Weather Service precipitation forecast calls for between 0.75 inches and 2 inches over the next 7 days for most of the northern half of the state, with little to no precipitation in southern Illinois.


Much of the state experienced near normal to slightly below normal temperatures in August. A strong cold front in the early part of the month and the last week of the month resulted in cooler conditions, with minimum temperatures ranging from the high 40s to high 50s across the state. This was particularly the case for the northwest quadrant of Illinois. However, all of the state experienced August temperatures within 2 degrees of the long-term August mean (see maps below). August average temperatures ranged from 79 degrees in Pulaski County to 68 degrees in Jo Davies County. The lowest minimum temperature reported in Illinois in August was 48 degrees in DeKalb County on August 2nd, and the highest maximum temperature reported in Illinois was 98 degrees in Pulaski County on August 20th.

September 2019 Outlook

Looking into September, the monthly outlook from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued on August 31 shows slightly elevated probabilities of below normal temperatures across the northern half of the state, with equal chances of above normal, normal, and below normal temperatures in the southern half.

September precipitation probabilities slightly favor above normal precipitation in the northwest corner of the state, but are equal (above normal, normal, below normal) for the rest of Illinois (see maps below).

September 2019 Temperature Outlook

September 2019 Precipitation Outlook