September Heat, Flooding, & Drought

This past month was tied for the 4th warmest September for Illinois (state average temperatures back to 1895), and the warmest September since 1933. Precipitation varied tremendously from north to south across the state.

Preliminary data suggest that September was tied for the 4th warmest on record for Illinois. The preliminary average statewide September temperature was 71.3 degrees, which is 4.9 degrees above the long-term average. Monthly temperatures ranged from 2 to 4 degrees warmer than normal in northeast Illinois to over 6 degrees warmer than normal in southwest Illinois. The preliminary average statewide precipitation was 5.34 inches, which is 1.9 inches above the long-term September average. However, the data also show large differences in September precipitation totals across the state, with northern Illinois receiving much more than average precipitation, and southern Illinois receiving much less than average.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time. 

Precipitation, Flooding, & Drought

September precipitation totals reveal a strong north-to-south gradient. Areas of northern and north-central Illinois received in excess of 12 inches of rainfall in September, while areas of southeast Illinois received less than 0.25 inches over the same time period (see maps below). Expressed as a percent of normal September precipitation, these totals ranged from 300 percent of normal in northern Illinois to less than 5 percent of normal in southeast Illinois. Locally, a station near Stockton (Jo Daviess County) observed 16.62 inches in September (nearly 13 inches more than normal), while the station at Smithland Lock & Dam (Pope County) recorded only 0.02 inches (3.5 inches less than normal).

August 2019 was the first months since September 2018 during which the U.S. Drought Monitor identified drought in the state. In September, dryness in east-central Illinois persisted but did not intensify. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map (September 24) shows a pocket of moderate drought covering parts of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties (see map below). Concurrently, below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures in the southern part of the state produced dryness in September. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor depicts abnormally dry conditions for most of Illinois south of I-64, and a pocket of moderate drought from Pope and Hardin counties in the southeast to Perry and Franklin counties in south-central Illinois. Conditions in southern Illinois have shown some signals of a flash drought, which is a rapidly intensifying drought event, often provoked by existing precipitation deficit combined with intense heat.

Reports from Illinois Farm Bureau CropWatchers regarding drought in east-central and southern Illinois are mixed. Some report the dryness and heat have helped late-planted crops reach maturity, while at the same time possibly sacrificing yield. The recent National Weather Service 7-day precipitation forecast calls for 1 to 4 inches of rain in the northern half of the state, with 7-day forecasted totals less than 0.5 inches in southern Illinois (see map below).

In contrast to the ongoing drought in southern and east-central Illinois, September was abnormally wet for most of northern and north-central Illinois. Persistent, heavy rains led to flooding impacts in parts of northern Illinois, including the closure of several state parks and significant flooding along the Fox and Des Plaines Rivers, among others. Areas in northern and north-central Illinois received in excess of 12 inches of rainfall in September. In most parts of Peoria, Woodford, Marshall, and Livingston Counties, most of the rainfall totals came in a 24-hour period between September 27 and 28. This event created dangerous flash flooding from Peoria into the southwest Chicago suburbs.

The COOP station in Minonk, Illinois (Woodford County) recorded 9.09 inches of rainfall over that 24-hour period, although that likely fell over a less than 12-hour window. This total approached the 24-hour, 500-year storm total of 9.53 inches and surpassed the 12-hour, 500-year storm total of 8.29 inches. A 500-year storm total refers to a precipitation accumulation over a given time period (e.g., 12, 24, 48 hours, etc.) and has a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in a given year. Impressively, the 9.09-inch total in Minonk broke, and nearly doubled, the all-time 24-hour precipitation total record at that station, which was just over 5 inches (data going back to 1895). Images of flooded fields in Woodford and Marshall Counties suggest this most recent heavy precipitation event may delay harvest.



The September temperature was much more consistent across the state than precipitation, as the entire state experienced above normal temperatures this month (see maps below). Apart from the last full week in September, most of the state has been under the influence of a large high-pressure system this month, centered to our southeast. This system has allowed warm air to intrude from the south/southwest, generating warmer than normal conditions for this time of the year. In fact, the statewide September average temperature was 71.3 degrees, tying it for the 4th warmest September on record in Illinois (back to 1895). September average temperatures across the state ranged from 65 degrees in Jo Daviess County to 78 degrees in Lawrence County. The lowest minimum temperature reported in Illinois in September was 45 degrees in Jo Daviess County on September 5, and the highest maximum temperature reported in Illinois was 97 degrees in both Alexander and Pope Counties on September 16. Well over 100 local daily climate records were broken in Illinois in September, most of which were high daily minimum temperature records. This is attributed to several very warm nights, including the night of September 22, when the nighttime minimum temperature remained above 70 degrees as far north as Elizabeth (Jo Daviess County) and Freeport (Stephenson County). On the night of September 10, the station in Rock Island reported a nighttime minimum temperature of 77 degrees, besting the previous daily record by 3 degrees.

Short-term temperature forecasts call for continued above average temperatures for the first few days of October and then a regression to cooler, more seasonal conditions. Longer term Climate Forecast System (CFS) forecasts from the National Centers for Environmental Protection show probabilities of a 32-degree freeze in Illinois remain below 30 percent into the third week of October. The map below shows the probability of a daily minimum temperature below 32 degrees between October 14th and October 21st.

October 2019 Outlook


Looking into October, the 8 to14-day outlook from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) shows elevated probabilities of above normal temperatures and elevated probabilities of above normal precipitation across the state.

The CPC monthly outlook for October still shows elevated probabilities for below normal temperatures across the northern half of the state, with equal chances (above normal, normal, below normal precipitation) for all but the very northwest corner of Illinois (see maps below).


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

July 2019: Prolonged stretch of abnormally wet weather comes to an end, along with notable hot and humid conditions.

July 2019 signaled the end of a persistent and historic stretch of abnormally wet conditions across Illinois, along with several notable periods of significantly above average temperatures.

Preliminary data suggest that July 2019 concluded drier than average, with temperatures above the long-term average. The preliminary average statewide July temperature was 77.3°F, which is 1.9°F above the long-term average. The preliminary average statewide precipitation was 3.23 inches, which is 0.85 inches below the long-term average.

Data are provisional and may change slightly over time


After seven consecutive months of above average statewide precipitation, July 2019 marked the end of the historic wet streak with below average statewide precipitation for the first time since November 2018. Despite the overall below average designation, July precipitation across Illinois was not evenly distributed.

Many in southern and northeastern portions of the state experienced near to above average precipitation totals in July, with a station near Highland (Madison County) reporting the highest monthly rainfall total of 9.02 inches. In contrast, large regions of western and central Illinois saw below average rainfall. In fact, multiple localities near the Quad Cities and along the Mississippi River, as well as smaller regions in east-central Illinois received only 10 to 25% of average monthly precipitation (see maps below).

Dating back to June 1, these same regions have reported precipitation departures of around 2 to 4+ inches below the long-term average. This extended stretch of dry conditions prompted the August 1 map from the U.S Drought Monitor (using data through July 30) to continue to highlight areas of abnormally dry conditions across the western and central portions of the state.

Illinois Precipitation Departures Map
Midwest Regional Climate Center (MRCC), accessed 8/1/2019
Illinois Drought Map
U.S Drought Monitor (UDSM) Illinois, accessed 8/1/2019

Interactive July 2019 Climate Station Precipitation Map


Despite an overall seasonable and pleasant ending, the first weeks of July brought several extended periods of heat and humidity to Illinois. Most notable was the heat wave that impacted the region from July 18 through July 21, in which every county in Illinois was under an Excessive Heat Warning at some point during the weekend. Throughout this event, daily maximum station temperatures soared into the 90s, with dew points in the mid- to upper 70s. This resulted in heat indices over 100 for many and approached 110 or higher in some localities. Daily temperature departures of 8 to 10+ degrees above average were common across the northern half of the state (see map below).

Illinois July Heatwave Map

Overnight low temperatures during this event did not bring much, if any, relief from the heat. With a daily minimum temperature of only 80 degrees on July 19, Rockford (Winnebago County) set a new all-time record-high minimum temperature. Records for Rockford extend back to 1905.

Looking at July as a whole, the average station temperatures varied from the mid-70s to the low 80s, and monthly temperature departures of 1 to 4 degrees above the long-term average were common for the northern two-thirds of Illinois (see maps below). The highest temperature reading in the state of 98 degrees occurred at two stations, Flora (Clay County) on July 11, and Palestine (Crawford County) on July 21. The lowest minimum temperature of 51 degrees also occurred at two stations, one near Champaign (Champaign County) on July 23, and at a station near Paxton (Ford County) on July 25.

Illinois July Average Temperatures

Ilinois July Temperatuer Departures

Interactive July 2019 Climate Station Temperature Map

August 2019 Outlook

For the remainder of August, the monthly outlook from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued on July 31 favors probabilities for below average temperatures across Illinois and most of the upper Midwest. The outlook also favors near equal chances for below, near, or above average precipitation.

CPC August 2019 Temperature Outlook
August 2019 Temperature Outlook
CPC August 2019 Precipitation Outlook
August 2019 Precipitation Outlook

Dryness Continues in Central Corn Belt

Summary: Rapid drying has occurred across the central Corn Belt since June 1 as virtually no rain has fallen, including most of central and northern Illinois. In addition, high water demand on soils has caused soil moisture to steadily drop in sites across Illinois. Estimates at one location in central Illinois put the water loss from evaporation in the soils and transpiration from plants at 2.4 inches since June 1.
When we get this short-term combination of little rain, high temperatures, and high evapotranspiration rates in summer months, we call it a “flash drought” because conditions can deteriorate rapidly such as they did in the 2012 drought. In my opinion, we are not quite there yet, but we could be if this continues for another few weeks.

Current Conditions and Forecast

Rainfall: Here is the map showing the dryness across the central Corn Belt since June 1. The area shaded gray has had almost no rain at all. Areas in orange have received 0.1 inches or less.
Continue reading “Dryness Continues in Central Corn Belt”

Drought Monitor Says Abnormally Dry – Should We be Worried?

The US Drought Monitor introduced their D0 “abnormally dry” category across northern and western Illinois (first map). Should we be worried? We have been running about 2 to 4 inches below average on precipitation this winter (second map) – that’s both rainfall and the water content of any snow. The good news is that the demand for water is very low in winter. Therefore, the impacts on soil moisture, stream flows, and lake levels so far have been minimal.

Click to enlarge.

Continue reading “Drought Monitor Says Abnormally Dry – Should We be Worried?”

Thursday Highlights – Drought Monitor and El Nino Forecast

Here are two highlights for today:

U.S. Drought Monitor

After some concerns of dryness over the last several months in parts of Illinois, the conditions across Illinois were much wetter in the last two weeks. Rainfall totals were especially heavy south of Interstate 72 and ranged from 3 to 8 inches or more (see map below).

The U.S. Drought Monitor has removed all areas of drought in Illinois and greatly reduced the region of “abnormally dry” conditions.


Climate Prediction Center El Niño Forecast

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center issued a new El Niño Watch today, saying …

While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chances of El Niño increase during the remainder of the year, exceeding 50% by summer.

This reflects a slightly stronger chance of El Niño arriving this summer than mentioned in their post a month ago. However, they caution that there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the timing and strength of the El Niño and recognize that the skill in forecasting El Niño this early in spring is low. This is a less certain forecast than the one issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology earlier this week, indicating that there was a greater than 70 percent of an El Niño event by June.

Nation Cut in Two by Drought

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The latest US Drought Monitor map from May 14, 2013, shows a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde nation when it comes to drought. Much of the country to the west of the 96° longitude is in some stage of drought while the country to the east of that line is largely drought free for the moment. Hardest hit have been the Plains states which in some cases are in year 2 or 3 of this drought.
By the way, the US Drought Monitor began about 13 years ago to provide one, unified map of drought across the United States. It is produced in partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with lots of input from scientists, state climatologists, state and local agencies, university extension, landowners, farmers, etc.  Maps are updated weekly and released on Thursday mornings.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The precipitation pattern so far this year reflects these differences between east and west. The map is the current year to date departure from average precipitation produced by the NWS. Areas in green and blue are 2 to 8 inches above average and include much of the Midwest and Southeast. Areas in yellow are 2 to 6 inches below average. Hardest hit so far has been the West Coast with departures more than a foot below average.  There are large areas shaded gray which show near-average conditions. However, much of the west needs many more months of average precipitation or even above-average precipitation to start a recovery from their current drought situation.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The National Climatic Data Center has a product that gives a rough idea of the amount of precipitation needed over the next 6 months to recover from drought. I say “a rough idea” because the timing and intensity of the precipitation is important as well. The effect of getting 3 inches in 30 minutes is different than getting 3 inches over 3 days. The first will cause lots of runoff while the second will have a better chance of recharging soil moisture. As you can see, it will take a considerable amount of precipitation in the Plains states to get out of their current situation.

Good News on Soil Moisture

The Illinois Weather and Crops report was released today by the USDA. As of March 24, the statewide topsoil moisture looked great with 81 percent “adequate” and 11 percent “surplus”. There was some lingering dryness across central Illinois. However, that was before Sunday’s storm that dropped a lot of snow whose water content ranged from 0.5 to 1.5 inches in that region.
Subsoil soil moisture was a little more pessimistic. Statewide numbers included 11 percent “very short”, 26 percent “short”, 58 percent “adequate”, and only 5 percent “surplus”. Some of the lowest numbers were in the northern and western part of the state. Subsoil moisture is not critical in the spring but provides a useful reserve, or cushion, during periods of dry weather in the summer.
The Illinois Weather and Crops is coming off it’s typical winter schedule of once per month to it’s growing season schedule of once a week. The reports can be found here. You can get the reports automatically by subscribing here.

Table from the USDA report, click to enlarge. 


Guidelines on soil moisture (USDA)

Topsoil is defined as the top six inches. Subsoil is defined as the area from six inches below the surface to a depth of three to four feet.
Very Short – Soil moisture supplies are significantly less than what is required for normal plant development. Growth has been stopped or nearly so and plants are showing visible signs of moisture stress. Under these conditions, plants will quickly suffer irreparable damage.
Short – Soil dry. Seed germination and/or normal crop growth and development would be curtailed.
Adequate – Soil moist. Seed germination and/or crop growth and development would be normal or unhindered.
Surplus – Soil wet. Fields may be muddy and will generally be unable to absorb additional moisture. Young developing crops may be yellowing from excess moisture.

Illinois Drought Free

According to the US Drought Monitor, Illinois is now drought free for the first time since April 3, 2012. Most areas in Illinois have seen positive responses in soil moisture, stream flows, lake levels, and groundwater levels since the fall. A small area of northwest Illinois remains as abnormally dry due to some lingering concerns about subsoil moisture and groundwater levels in that area.

USDA Report Reflects Impact of Drought in Illinois

Last week the Illinois office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service released their report on crop yields in Illinois. The full report can be found here.
As expected, the Illinois corn yield for 2012 was only 105 bushels per acre, 52 bushels below last year. They noted that this was the lowest yield since 1988, when the average yield was only 73 bushels per acres. Because of the severe conditions of the corn crop, almost twice as many acres were harvested for silage in 2012 than in 2011.
Illinois soybean yield for 2012 was 43.0 bushels per acre, down 4.5 bushels from 2011. This was the lowest soybean yield since 2003, when the average yield was only 37.0 bushels per acre. While too late to do much good for corn, rains in the second half of August and the remains of Hurricane Isaac over Labor Day weekend may have provided some benefit to soybeans.
The one bright spot in the Illinois report was winter wheat production. The yield in 2012 was 63 bushels per acre, up 2 bushels from 2011. However, only 660,000 acres were seeded in the fall of 2011, which is down 140,000 acres from the previous fall. I suspect the decline was due in part to the already dry conditions experience in southern Illinois – the primary production area of the state.