Soil Temperatures in Illinois, Waiting for the Drop Below 50 Degrees

One of the impacts of the warmer-than-average weather in October and November is that soil temperatures have been slow to fall below 50 degrees . This is the important temperature threshold for those applying fall fertilizer (55 degrees with an inhibitor).

You can track daily soil temperatures from the Illinois Climate Network site: 

As of this writing (November 13), yesterday’s daily high soil temperatures at 4 inches were still ranging from 49 degrees in the north to 58 degrees in the south. Naturally, the air temperatures are going to have to get into the 40s and stay there for these soil temperatures to continue to drop. However, the NWS forecast for the coming week shows highs in the mid to upper 50s in the north and in the low 60s in the south.


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Tracking Illinois Soil Temperatures

As the snow turns to mud this week, this is a good time to advertise links for the soil temperatures in Illinois. The Water Survey operates a 19-station network of sites around the state collecting hourly soil temperatures at 4 and 8 inches under grass as well as an estimate under bare ground.

All this information can be found at the Illinois Climate Network Soil Data site. Below is just a screenshot of that page to show where you would find that information on the real web page.


Here is a snapshot of 4-inch soil temperatures as of 10 am, March 13, 2015. Soil temperatures are still near the freezing mark in the northern half of the state, but warm into the 40s and low 50s in the southern half of the state.


Soil Temperatures in Illinois

The Illinois State Water Survey maintains a network of 19 soil temperature sites across the state that measure temperatures at 4 and 8 inches. You can look at maps for 10 am, any hour of the day, high for the day, low for the day, under sod, and under bare soil. You can find all their data at this site: 

Here is the 4-inch soil temperature from yesterday. It’s always a day behind so that they can upload the data and do quality control checks. The data now arrive hourly. My mistake – they used to upload the data once a day and do QC but now it is more timely. As you would expect, soil temperatures change more slowly than the air temperatures.



And here is what it looked like two years ago after a record warm March. I chose April 2, 2012 for the same time of day and depth. As you can see, the soil temperatures were about 12 degrees warmer and USDA NASS reported that 5% of the corn crop had already been planted by that date.

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Frost Depth in Illinois

One of the effects of this exceptionally cold winter has been that our soils have remained frozen at considerable depths. We have hourly soil temperatures under grass at 19 sites across the state at 4 and 8 inches, available through the WARM website, that give us glimpses of soil conditions.

Here are snapshots of the daily low soil temperature at 4 inches yesterday and a week ago when temperatures were much warmer. The 4-inch temperature responded to the warmer weather and showed signs of thawing before re-freezing this week. In many parts of the state, the 8-inch soil temperatures remained frozen during this period. Click on each map to enlarge.

feb21          feb26

Soil temperatures depend on soil types, soil moisture, vegetation, snowcover, and exposure. In general, drier soils warm up and cool faster than wet soils. Both vegetation and snow can insulate the soil for air temperature extremes. I recall the morning of January 5, 1999, when we had a foot of snow on the ground and an air temperature of 25 degrees below zero. Because the winter had been mild up to that week, the soil temperature at 4 inches was 32 degrees, a difference of 57 degrees between 4 inches below ground and 5 feet above ground!

While the above site tracks temperatures at specific depths, the NOAA North Central River Forecast Center maintains a web site with observed frost-depths in Illinois and points to the north. For most of this winter, the frost depth has run in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 inches across Illinois with a few sites going deeper. Here is a screenshot of this morning’s map. While it doesn’t work on the screen shot, you can mouse-over the points on the map on the website and see the individual reports.

North Central River Forecast SoilT

Finally, Wayne Wendland, the former State Climatologist for Illinois, did a frost-depth study in Illinois using data collected from grave diggers from 1980 to 1996. He developed a network of sites across Illinois through the Illinois Cemetery Association and provided post cards that the grave diggers filled out every two weeks in winter. They noted frost depth, soil moisture, soil texture, ground cover, and exposure. The deepest observed frost depths during this period ranged from 5 inches in far southern Illinois to 30 inches in far northern Illinois. The results were published in the Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science (pdf).

Illinois Soil Temperatures – Then and Now

You can find 4 and 8-inch soil temperatures for Illinois on the Water Survey’s web site at These data are from a network of 19 sites around Illinois that is maintained by the Survey.
Below are the maps of what the 4-inch soil temperatures looked like on Wednesday and a year ago on the same date. This year the soil temperatures are barely above freezing in northern Illinois and barely above 40 degrees in southern Illinois. On the same date in 2012, the 4-inch soil temperatures were in the upper 50s and lower 60s across the state.

Latest Monthly and Seasonal Outlook Released

Yesterday NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released their outlooks for February and beyond (see maps below). For February they call for an increased chance of below-average temperatures for the upper Midwest, including the northern two-thirds of Illinois. Precipitation in Illinois is expected to have equal chances (E.C.) of being above, below, or near average.
For February through April, temperatures have an equal chance of being above, below, or near average. It’s what I call a neutral forecast. On the other hand, there is an increased chance of above-average precipitation across the Great Lakes region, including the northern three-fourths of Illinois. That would be great news for the further recovery of drought conditions in Illinois, if it pans out.
The outlook for May through July indicates that a large part of the US is expected to have an increased chance of above-average temperatures (last map). The precipitation outlook for this period is neutral.
The outlook for August through October (not shown) is not very interesting for Illinois with equal chances of above, below, and near average temperature and precipitation. In other words, it is a very neutral outlook.
As of January 18, this month has been warm and wet. Temperatures have been almost 5 degrees above the long-term average. Precipitation, mostly in the form of rain, has ranged from less than an inch in northwest Illinois to over 5 inches in far southern Illinois. Current measurements of soil temperatures in Illinois show that the soils under grass at 4 inches remain unfrozen. So much of that rain and melted snow should have soaked in.

One and three month outlooks from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Temperature outlook for May – July from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Soil Temperatures in Fall in Illinois

The Illinois Agronomy Handbook recommends that fall N applications should be done when the daily maximum bare soil temperature at 4 inches is below 50 degrees. Fall application is not recommended south of Illinois Highway 16.
The Illinois State Water Survey’s Water and Atmospheric Resource Monitoring (WARM) program has a network of 19 sites around Illinois with daily soil temperature readings at 4 and 8 inches. You can see the reports from “yesterday” on their soil temperature page. Be sure to look at the daily maximum 4-inch bare soil temperature.
As of this writing (November 4), the daily maximum 4-inch bare soil temperature is below 50 degrees in the northwest part of the state. However, it is still in the low to mid 50s across northeastern and much of central Illinois.
Of course, the soil temperature in a particular field can vary due to the temperature, soil moisture, vegetation and tillage, and even soil color.
The figure below shows the average date when the 4-inch soil temperature reached 50 degrees in the fall. In general the average date was in mid-November. However, it can vary from year to year depending on weather and soil conditions.

Average date when soil temperatures at 4 inches reach 50 degrees.Click to enlarge.

Soil Temperatures in Illinois

With the arrival of spring, Illinois farmers are monitoring soil temperatures for decisions in the field. And the soil temperatures are on the rise.
The ISWS Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring (WARM) Program records soil temperatures at 4 and 8 inches under grass at 19 sites across the state. In addition, 4-inch bare soil temperatures are computed to represent a cultivated field. These data are available in map and tabular form for the past 7 days at
As of April 6, the 4-inch soil temperatures under grass during the day are into the upper 40s in northern Illinois, the low to mid 50s in central Illinois, and the mid 50s in southern Illinois. At night they are cooling off by about 4 to 6 degrees.
The statewide soil temperatures give a general idea of conditions; however, soil temperatures in an individual field will depend on factors such as soil moisture and tillage practices. Also, soil temperatures at the surface will warm up and cool off faster than in deeper layers.

October Was Warm and Dry in Illinois


For Illinois, the statewide average rainfall for October was 1.4 inches, 1.5 inches below normal or 48 percent of normal. This ranks as the 20th driest October on record. The largest monthly rainfall total was reported at Belvidere with 3.94 inches. See map below for rainfall departures across the state.
While northern Illinois was close to normal on rainfall in October, parts of southern and eastern Illinois remained dry. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists those areas as “abnormally dry” and southeastern Illinois as”moderate drought”. At this time of year, the main impacts on agriculture would be on pasture conditions and winter wheat.

Soil Moisture

With the vegetation preparing for a long winter’s nap and lower temperatures, the demands on soil moisture are close to zero. So soil moisture should start to recover in the next few months even if precipitation remains below normal. The Illinois State Water Survey posts their latest soil moisture survey a few days after the end of the month here.


The statewide average temperature for October was 56.2 degrees, 1.6 degrees above normal. The highest temperature for the month was reported at Fairfield with 93 degrees on October 10. The lowest temperature for the month was reported at Minonk with 22 degrees on October 29 and Sidell with 22 degrees on October 30.


During October, nearly all of Illinois has experienced temperatures down to 32 degrees and many areas have reached 28 degrees or less. See map below.



October rainfall Illinois
October rainfall departures from normal.

freeze Illinois
Occurrence of Frost (32F) and Freeze (28F) in Illinois at end of October 2010.

All data are preliminary.

More on Soil Temperatures in Illinois

Here are the average dates in fall when the 4-inch soil temperature falls below 50 degrees (left panel) and below 60 degrees (right panel). Consider these as a “rule of thumb” for planning purposes. Consult the current soil temperatures, as discussed in the earlier post, for decisions on applying nitrogen in the fall.

Average date when 4-inch soil temperature drops below 50 and 60 degrees.
Average date in fall when the 4-inch soil temperature drops a) below 50 degrees, and b) below 60 degrees.