A Cool Start to Fall

September was slightly cooler and wetter than average across Illinois. The preliminary statewide average September temperature was 65.4 degrees, 0.8 degrees below the 30-year normal, and tied for the 45th coolest on record. Preliminary statewide average total precipitation for August was 3.39 inches, 0.16 inches more than the 30-year normal, and the 58th wettest on record.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time

September Temperatures

A cold front moved through the Midwest in late August, bringing Illinois its first real taste of fall air. Below average temperatures remained in place for most of September, resulting in an overall statewide average temperature of 65.4 degrees, 0.8 degrees below the 30-year normal.

The maps below show September average temperatures and their departure from the long-term average. September temperatures ranged from the low 60s in northern Illinois to the low 70s in far southern Illinois. All but the very northeastern corner of the state was cooler than average, including parts of Putman and LaSalle Counties, which were nearly 3 degrees below the long-term September average temperature.

September Temperatures

A cold front moved through the Midwest in late August, bringing Illinois its first real taste of fall air. Below average temperatures remained in place for most of September, resulting in an overall statewide average temperature of 65.4 degrees, 0.8 degrees below the 30-year normal.

The maps below show September average temperatures and their departure from the long-term average. September temperatures ranged from the low 60s in northern Illinois to the low 70s in far southern Illinois. All but the very northeastern corner of the state was cooler than average, including parts of Putman and LaSalle Counties, which were nearly 3 degrees below the long-term September average temperature.

Although temperature departures were largest in northern Illinois, the southern half of the state experienced unusually cold weather during the third week of September. The map below shows observed minimum temperatures on September 20. The station in Cairo in Alexander County observed 37 degrees that morning, which broke the all-time September minimum temperature record in Cairo set in 1989.

Western U.S. Wildfire Smoke

On several otherwise cloud-free days last month, the sky over Illinois appeared an odd milky-white color. This was caused by smoke from wildfires in the western U.S. that had moved across the country. The figure below shows a satellite estimate of vertically integrated smoke across the U.S. on September 17. Areas with relatively high smoke content in the atmosphere are shown in red and pink. Although the smoke created an eerie appearance in the sky, it did not pose a health risk to Illinoisans. The smoke though did likely, although modestly, suppress our daytime high temperatures last month as it reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the surface and heating the afternoon air.

Southern Illinois’ Turn for Drought

September statewide total precipitation was 3.39 inches, approximately 0.16 inches above the long-term average. However, much like the previous three months, large precipitation gradients created rainfall winners and losers. The maps below show total September precipitation and September precipitation percent of normal.

Total September rainfall ranged from over 9 inches in northwest Illinois to less than a half inch in eastern Illinois. Most areas of northern Illinois experienced between 125 percent and 300 percent of normal September precipitation, while areas of southern Illinois experienced between 10 percent and 90 percent of normal.

On one end of the extreme, the station at the Quad Cities airport in Moline experienced its 10th wettest September with a total of 6.25 inches. This followed the driest August on record in Moline, with only 0.15 inches of total August precipitation. This is contrasted by the station in Paris in Edgar County, which observed only 0.34 inches of total precipitation in September, making it the third driest September on record in Paris. This came after the second wettest July on record in Paris, with over 10 inches of precipitation.

However, Belleville in St. Clair County wins the prize of most variable rainfall over the past few months with the second wettest July on record, followed by the wettest August on record, followed by the seventh driest September on record.

The rainfall in northern Illinois was welcome, and alleviated drought conditions that had persisted there since early August. However, the very dry conditions in central and southern Illinois resulted in an expansion of moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions in the most recent, October 1 edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor (map below).

Outlooks

The first few days of October have continued the cool weather in September. However, outlooks from 6 to 10 days out to 3 months are indicating the highest odds for warmer than normal conditions.

The 8- to 14-day outlooks below indicate strongly elevated odds of warmer and drier than normal conditions in the second week of October across the state. Although this will not help alleviate ongoing drought in central and southern Illinois, it will help crop dry down as we enter the peak harvest season.

Looking farther out, the week three to four outlooks are similar with warmer and drier than normal conditions prevailing for the latter part of October.

As we begin to look toward climatological winter, the three-month outlooks for November, December, and January are still tilted toward warmer than normal conditions. Precipitation outlooks for the same three-month period show an equal chance of wetter and drier than normal weather. 

Cool, Warm, Wet, Dry, and a Derecho: A Wild August Ends Climatological Summer

August was slightly cooler and much drier than average across Illinois. The preliminary statewide average August temperature was 72.7 degrees, 0.9 degrees below the 30-year normal and the 45th coolest on record. Preliminary statewide average total precipitation for August was 2.01 inches, 1.58 inches below than the 30-year normal and the 15th driest on record.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time

August Temperatures

Following the warmer than average months of June and July, August began much cooler than average. The below average temperatures persisted through the third week of the month in response to a persistent atmospheric trough over the central U.S. The map below shows temperatures were between 1 and 4 degrees below average through the first three weeks of August.

Between August 1 and 21, 43 daily low maximum temperature and 6 daily low minimum temperature records were broken across the state. This included a 70-degree high temperature in Salem in Marion County, which broke the previous record by 10 degrees.

As the ridge in the western U.S. broke down in the third week of August, heat spread east, and Illinois temperatures switched to considerably above average. As the map below shows, temperatures in the week of August 22 were 1 to 10 degrees above average with the highest departures in northern Illinois.

During this fourth week of August, 10 daily high maximum temperature and 6 daily high minimum temperature records were broken. Mount Carroll in Carroll County broke or tied their daily high maximum temperature records on three consecutive days between August 25 and 27. Most stations observed daily high temperatures in the 90s this week, including five consecutive 90+-degree days in Rockford. This was the longest such streak in Rockford in August since 2011. The station at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport observed 10 days with a high temperature at or above 90 degrees last month. This is tied for the sixth most 90+-degree days at O’Hare, going back to 1959, and the most since 2012. The climatological average August frequency of 90+-degree days at O’Hare is 4. This is compared to the station in Carbondale that typically experiences 11 90+-degree days in August, but only observed 4 this last month.

Although the fourth week of August was unusually warm in northern Illinois, temperatures were closer to average in southern Illinois. The plot below shows daily temperature departures in Rosiclare in Hardin County. The southeast Illinois climate division, containing Rosiclare, experienced its eighth coolest August on record.

The statewide August temperature was 72.7 degrees, nearly 1 degree below the 30-year normal. The maps below show that average temperatures were in the mid- to high 70s across the state last month, very close to the long-term average in northern Illinois, and between 1 and 4 degrees below average in southern Illinois.

The maps below show the climatological summer (June–August) 2020 maximum, average, and minimum temperature departures from average. June and July this year were both in the top 30 warmest months on record, resulting in an overall warmer than average summer in northern Illinois. However, the cooler August pushed summer temperatures within a degree of the long-term average in most of southern and south-central Illinois.

August Derecho

August was not without its fair share of severe weather. On August 10, a strong mesoscale convective system moved across the Upper Midwest. The system intensified in the eastern Dakotas and caused a derecho–a widespread, long-lived windstorm–that impacted areas of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. A derecho is characterized by strong straight-line winds that can exceed 75 mph and often affect areas between 250 and 500 miles. Dr. Marshall Shepherd at the University of Georgia provides an excellent description in his piece in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2020/08/10/what-is-a-derecho/#44cb250c3b8e.

The derecho on August 10 produced observed winds exceeding 100 mph and estimated (from damage) wind gusts up to 140 mph across east-central Iowa. Based on initial reports, the derecho damaged between 6 and 10 million acres of crops across Iowa and northern Illinois. In addition, the winds caused significant damage and destruction in residential and urban areas. The city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa was hit particularly hard. The local newspaper reported estimates of over 20,000 trees downed in Cedar Rapids alone (https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/derecho-by-the-digits-numbers-help-tell-the-story-of-the-storm-20200830), causing hundreds of thousands to lose power and remain without power for several days. The storm also resulted in four fatalities, three in Iowa and one in Indiana.

Along with the derecho, the storm produced 15 confirmed tornadoes in the Chicagoland area. The figure below is from the Chicago National Weather Service, showing the tracks of these tornadoes, including a couple that moved through the city of Chicago.

More research is necessary to better understand the environment that produces a derecho, and the corresponding warning of these events and risks they pose. One paper by Guastini and Bosart in Monthly Weather Review (https://journals.ametsoc.org/mwr/article/144/4/1363/72372) found northern Illinois experiences a derecho once every two years. However, not all derecho events are as large, long-lived, and intense as the event earlier last month.

Southern Illinois Remains Wet

Statewide August total precipitation was 2.01 inches, 1.58 inches below the 30-year normal and the 15th driest on record. However, like the varying temperatures, the southern and northern halves of the state experienced two very different August precipitation patterns. The maps below show August total precipitation and departures from average across the state. August totals ranged from less than a quarter of an inch in northwest Illinois to over 8 inches in southwest Illinois. In general, the northern half of the state experienced 1 to 4 inches below average, while most of southern Illinois experienced a 1 to 3 inches above average rainfall last month.

We can contrast the two halves of the state by comparing total rainfall in the Quad Cites with that in the St. Louis Metro East. The station at the Quad Cities Airport in Moline observed just 0.15 inches of total rain in August, which was less than half the previous low August total record of 0.35 inches in 1971 (see plot below).

As the Quad Cities experienced their driest August on record, the station at the SIU Research Farm in Belleville observed their wettest at over 10 inches of total rainfall last month. Of particular note was a strong thunderstorm that moved through the St. Louis area on August 12, producing heavy rainfall for the Metro East area. The station at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville recorded 5.36 inches in only three hours from this storm. The heavy rain produced flash flooding across the area, including multiple hangars on the base that were flooded. According to new estimates from the Illinois State Water Survey’s Bulletin 75 (https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/106653), this was approximately a 125-year rainfall event.

Northern Illinois Drought

July was slightly drier than average across most of northern Illinois. The first week of August was somewhat wet across the state; however, for most areas of northern and central Illinois, more rain fell in the first week of August than in the last three weeks of the month. The rainfall deficit was somewhat offset by below average temperatures during the first few weeks of the month. However, as heat began to set in and the northern half of the state experienced multiple, consecutive 90-degree days, the lack of moisture became quite apparent.

The plot below shows the daily accumulated difference between precipitation and reference evapotranspiration–an indicator of atmospheric evaporative demand–at the Illinois Climate Network Monmouth station. Looking at dry conditions through this lens provides a water balance perspective. The Monmouth record shows a positive water balance at the beginning of the month due to precipitation. However, the subsequent lack of rainfall after August 5 results in a negative water balance that is accelerated in the final weeks of the month. The station in Monmouth ended the month with an over 4-inch moisture deficit.  

In response to pervasive dry conditions in northern Illinois, most of the area is considered abnormally dry in the August 25 edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor (below). There are also pockets of moderate drought in western and northeast Illinois in response to agricultural and ecological impacts of the dryness.

Climatological summer (June–August) precipitation patterns are like those in August, with contrasting conditions in northern and southern Illinois. The northern half of the state finished summer with between 1 and 4 inches below average precipitation, while southern Illinois was 1 to 6 inches wetter than average this last season. The official summer season rankings will be released later this month, but it is worth mentioning that statewide total summer precipitation has only been below the 30-year normal 3 out of the last 10 years (2017, 2013, and 2012).

Outlooks

The late August heat will likely be replaced by cooler than average conditions throughout September. The Climate Prediction Center’s 8- to 14-day outlook and 1-month outlook both indicate strongly elevated odds of below normal temperatures.

Precipitation outlooks are mixed. The 8- to 14-day outlook indicates weakly elevated odds of wetter than normal conditions in the eastern half of the state to start September, with near normal precipitation elsewhere. The one-month September outlook indicates weakly elevated odds of drier than normal conditions in northern Illinois, but equal odds of above and below normal precipitation elsewhere.

Cooler weather in September will help to temper ongoing drought in northern and central Illinois. However, September is one of the drier months in Illinois, and given the outlooks, it is unlikely that dry conditions will be completely alleviated.

Cool, Wet May ends Wet Spring

May was much colder and moderately wetter than average across Illinois, bringing an end to a wet climatological spring season. The preliminary statewide average May temperature was 60.5 degrees, 2.2 degrees below the 30-year normal and the 39th coldest on record. Preliminary statewide average total precipitation for May was 5.41 inches, 0.81 inches wetter than the 30-year normal and the 25th wettest on record.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time

Cool Start to May, Very Late Freeze

Following a cool April, temperatures for the first half of May were mostly below average. As the temperature plot from Quincy shows (below), May temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees below average between May 8 and May 13.

Most stations in the northern two-thirds of the state observed daily minimum temperatures below freezing during the six-day stretch. The map below shows observed minimum temperatures on the morning of May 10, and below freezing temperatures as far south as Hardin County. The 24-degree minimum temperature observed in Normal was the second lowest May temperature observed at that station since observations began there in 1893. Although May freezes are not uncommon in Illinois, many tender perennials and flowering trees were at a more vulnerable state because of the warm start to this calendar year.

Minimum temperatures observed on the morning of May 9, 2020.

Between May 6 and May 13, 37 daily low minimum temperature records and 40 low maximum temperature records were broken across the state. In addition, stations in Paxton, Joliet, Normal, and Princeton broke their all-time May low minimum temperature records on May 9. All four stations have data records going back at least 30 years.

A shift in the predominant winds brought warmer and more humid weather for the last two weeks of May. The dew point temperature is a good indicator of humidity because the dew point is the temperature to which the air would need to be cooled to reach saturation (relative humidity of 100%). Therefore, higher dew point temperatures indicate higher humidity. The air will begin to feel humid when dew point temperatures are between 55 and 60 degrees, and dew points exceeding 70 degrees indicate conditions that are oppressive, or very humid. Dew point temperatures were well above average throughout the state during the last 10 days in May. At 6 p.m. on May 26, the station at the Effingham County Memorial Airport observed a 77-degree dew point temperature. This was only the third time since observations began at the Effingham airport in 1948 that a May dew point temperature exceeding 75 degrees was observed.

May average temperatures ranged from the high 50s in northern Illinois to the low 60s in southern Illinois. May was colder than average in all but the very northeastern corner of the state. Overall, the May statewide average temperature was 60.5 degrees, which was 2.2 degrees below the 30-year normal and 39th coldest on record.

Both April and May this year were colder than normal statewide, following three consecutive warmer than normal months to start the year. Although official numbers will not be released until later this month, it is likely the 2020 climatological spring was very close to the 30-year normal.

Another Record-Breaking Wet Spring in Chicago

May started dry, with most areas of the state receiving less than an inch of rain in the first two weeks. However, a series of storms moved across the Interstate 55 corridor around the middle of the month, leaving widespread totals of 2 to 4 inches between the St. Louis Metro East and Chicagoland.

The months of May through September tend to have a larger percentage of precipitation that comes from small-scale convective storms than cold season months. Despite their size, these storms can generate large precipitation totals in a matter of hours; however, because of their size and relatively short lifespan, they can create large disparities in precipitation over short distances. The storms that moved through the state in the middle of last month generated very heavy rainfall over the Chicagoland area and resulted in over 7 inches of rain in four days over a large area of the city and suburbs. Over 3.5 inches was recorded at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 14, the largest single-day May precipitation total ever recorded at that station.

The rainfall resulted in the wettest May on record at both Chicago O’Hare (9.51 inches) and Midway (7.65 inches) airport stations. At O’Hare, this last month broke the previous May record set last year in 2019, which at that time broke the previous record set in 2018. This makes three consecutive years that the O’Hare station has broken May total precipitation records, and all five of the wettest Mays on record at O’Hare have occurred since 2004.

Heavy rainfall across northern and central Illinois led to flash flooding in developed areas as well as inundated fields and standing water in rural parts of the state. Gauges in both the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers topped flood stage, including a likely new record crest on the Illinois River at Morris.

Overall, May total precipitation ranged from over 9 inches in northeast Illinois to just under four inches in southeast and far western Illinois. Most of the state received between 100 percent and 150 percent of normal May precipitation, while the Chicagoland area received over 200 percent of normal. Only southeast Illinois, from Washington to Massac Counties, was drier than normal but still received around 90 percent of normal May precipitation.

The statewide average total May precipitation was 5.41 inches, which is 0.81 inches more than the 30-year normal and 25th wettest on record.

May ended a wetter than average climatological spring, with most areas of the state receiving between 100 percent and 125 percent of normal precipitation. Interestingly, the statewide average spring total precipitation has been above the 30-year normal only 5 times in the past 10 years: 2020, 2019, 2017, 2013, and 2011. However, the average departure from normal in those five years was 4.75 inches, whereas the average departure from normal on the five drier than normal springs was only -1.38 inches. This means that although we’ve had an even split between drier and wetter than normal springs over the past decade, the wet springs have been very wet.

Although only trace snowfall occurred this last month, most areas in northern Illinois experienced more snowfall than average in the climatological spring. Spring snowfall totals ranged from less than an inch in most of central Illinois to over six inches along the Interstate 80 corridor.

Outlooks

Short-term 8- to 14-day outlooks from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center show elevated odds of both above normal precipitation and above normal temperatures across the state.

Longer-term outlooks for climatological summer show continued elevated odds of wetter than normal conditions, but equal chances of above normal, normal, and below normal temperature.

The Dry April That Wasn’t

April ended colder and wetter than average across the state. The preliminary statewide average April temperature was 49.2 degrees, 3.4 degrees below the 30-year normal and tied for the 27th coldest on record going back to 1895. The preliminary statewide average total April precipitation was 4.36 inches, 0.58 inches above than the 30-year normal and the 43rd wettest on record.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time

April Temperature Rollercoaster

Warm weather spilled over from March into the beginning of April. Average temperatures between April 1 and April 10 ranged from 1 to 6 degrees above the 30-year normal across the state. A strong cold front moved through the region between April 9 and 11, with following unseasonably cold air that quickly decreased temperatures. Average temperatures between April 11 and 20 ranged from 5 to 15 degrees below normal (see maps below).

Many stations across the state recorded daily maximum temperatures in the mid- to high 80s during the first 10 days of April, only to record daily minimum temperatures in the mid- to low 20s in the second 10 days. For example, stations in McHenry and Woodford Counties recorded high temperatures of 82 degrees on April 9 and one week later recorded low temperatures of 20 degrees on April 16. Fourteen stations around the state broke daily April high maximum temperature records and three stations broke daily April high minimum temperature records between April 7 and 12. Subsequently, 20 stations broke the daily April low maximum temperature records and 30 stations broke the April low minimum temperature records between April 13 and 20.

The plots below show daily maximum and minimum temperatures, as well as daily average temperature departures from normal, for April in Jacksonville. The average temperature in Jacksonville on April 8 was nearly 20 degrees above the long-term average, and the average temperature 10 days later on April 18 was nearly 20 degrees below the long-term average.

Overall, April average temperatures ranged from the low 30s in northern Illinois to the mid-50s in southern Illinois. April was cooler than normal across the state. The preliminary statewide average April temperature was 49.2 degrees, 3.4 degrees cooler than normal and the 27th coldest on record back to 1895. April ended the consecutive four-month streak of warmer than normal months going back to December 2019.

Spring Freeze

As a result of the strong cold front that moved through the region in mid-April, minimum temperatures dipped below freezing as far south as Pope County. Stations in northwest Illinois recorded minimum temperatures in the teens on April 8. Late-season freeze events in early to mid-April are not uncommon; however, last month’s event followed a prolonged period of well above average temperatures. The plot below shows daily average temperature departures from the 30-year normal from March and April in Carbondale. Between March 1 and April 12, Carbondale experienced twice as many warmer than normal days than cooler than normal days. Furthermore, the minimum temperature in Carbondale last dipped below freezing on March 7 before reaching 30 degrees on April 14.

Flowering trees, shrubs, and tender perennials broke dormancy and began to green in response to prolonged warm conditions throughout March and early April. This increased the vulnerability of Illinois specialty crops such as peaches, strawberries, and asparagus to the late-season freeze. University of Illinois Extension reported some damage to specialty crops in most regions of the state as a result of the freeze event in mid-April. The extent of damage was likely curtailed by successful warming of the sub-freezing temperatures five to seven days prior to the event.

Heavy Late-April Rain

The first two-thirds of last month was somewhat to very dry across the state, with most areas experiencing less than 50 percent of normal precipitation by April 20 (see maps below). The station in Rosiclaire in Hardin County recorded less than one-half an inch of rainfall in the first 22 days in April, putting last month on track for one of the driest Aprils on record. Likewise, areas of east-central Illinois were experiencing a 2-inch precipitation deficit by April 22. The prolonged dry conditions caused soils to dry considerably. Both 4-inch and 8-inch soils at the Illinois Climate Network station in Bondville in Champaign County were at their driest April levels since 2012. The dryness was quite a contrast to April 2019 and was beneficial for farmers to make planting progress.

The dry weather was brought to an abrupt end by a series of storms that tracked across Illinois over the last week in April, generating very heavy rainfall and widespread 2- to 4-inch accumulations along the Interstate 55 corridor between the St. Louis Metro East and Chicagoland (see map below). The heaviest rainfall was in central Illinois between Mason and McLean Counties.

The Bloomington Waterworks station recorded 4.99 inches on April 26, which was the largest single-day April precipitation event on record at that station going back to 1949. The wettest point in the state last month was Havana in Mason County. The Havana station recorded just over 2 inches of precipitation in the first 22 days of April and was experiencing nearly a three-quarter-inch precipitation deficit at that time. Havana received nearly 6 inches of precipitation in the following seven days and ended the month with an all-time April record-breaking precipitation total of 7.8 inches (see plot below).

Heavy precipitation in late April caused flash flooding across central and northeastern Illinois as well as inundated fields and resultant planting delays. Additionally, many gauges along the Illinois River, Des Plaines River, and Mississippi River south of Hardin were pushed into the flood stage.

Total March precipitation ranged from just under 8 inches in central Illinois to less than 2 inches in southeastern and northwestern Illinois. These totals ranged from over 175 percent of average April precipitation in central to less than 50 percent of average April precipitation in southern Illinois.

Overall, the preliminary statewide average April precipitation was 4.36 inches, 0.58 inches above than the 30-year normal and the 43rd wettest on record. The April average does not reflect the 5- to 6-inch differences in precipitation between central and northern/southern Illinois.

Most of the northern half of the state experienced measurable snowfall last month. April totals ranged from over 8 inches in north central Illinois to just over one-tenth of an inch along Interstate 72. A single storm in mid-April produced widespread 24-hour snowfall totals between 1 and 3 inches in central and northern Illinois, with a few much larger isolated totals. Areas of Warren, Henry, Knox, and Mercer Counties received more than 6 inches of snowfall in a single day, including the third and fifth highest single day April snowfall totals in Kewanee and Galesburg, respectively. This event was also the latest 5-inch or larger snowfall event on record at nearly a dozen stations around the state.

With April on the books, the total 2019–2020 season snowfall ranged from over 50 inches in far northern Illinois to less than 1 inch in southeastern Illinois. Most areas of the state north of Interstate 70 experienced a snowier than average season (see maps below).

Outlooks

Short-term 8–14-day outlooks from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center show strongly elevated odds of below normal temperatures and slightly elevated odds of above normal precipitation across the state.

Longer-term 30-day outlooks are similar to the 8–14-day outlooks, with continued, albeit weaker, chances of cooler and drier conditions, especially for the northeastern half of the state for May.