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‘Exceptional’ drought grips eastern Iowa, relief might be coming


‘Exceptional’ drought grips eastern Iowa, relief might be coming

Sep 21, 2023 | 4:39 pm ET
By Jared Strong
‘Exceptional’ drought grips eastern Iowa, relief might be coming
(Stock photo via Canva)

Two areas of eastern Iowa have recently developed exceptional drought, the worst dryness classification issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

‘Exceptional’ drought grips eastern Iowa, relief might be coming
Parts of Iowa have the worst drought classification, but widespread heavy rain is expected this weekend. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Drought Monitor)

That high level of drought is affecting all or parts of nine counties, primarily in far northeast Iowa. The total affected area represents about 5% of the state, and that is the highest percentage of exceptional drought for the state the Drought Monitor has recorded in the 23 years since its inception.

Still, statewide drought conditions are not as bad as they were in much of 2012. The dryness that year was more consistent across Iowa, with up to three-quarters of the state suffering from extreme drought, the second-to-worst classification.

About a quarter of Iowa had extreme drought as of Tuesday, according to a recent Drought Monitor report. There is significant disparity in current dryness in parts of the state. Far northeast Iowa has exceptional drought, and a small pocket of far southwest Iowa has no drought.

Iowa’s summer months of June, July and August averaged near normal for temperatures, but that stretch was the 14th-driest summer on record, according to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center who gave a broad overview Thursday of conditions in the Midwest.

“Some of the worst drought that we’re seeing in the region is still through Wisconsin and Minnesota, Iowa into eastern-central Nebraska, eastern Kansas, western Missouri,” he said.

Hot and dry conditions in late August and early September led crops in the region to mature more quickly than normal, and corn and soybean harvests are underway.

“Right now, the question is up in the air about how much yield loss there was,” said Dennis Todey, director of the USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub in Ames. “We probably won’t know for a good month or more.”

The drought affected various parts of the Iowa throughout the growing season and has intensified in recent weeks nearly everywhere. Some farmers have reported low yields because of that, but many early harvests have been better than expected. About 5% of corn and 3% of soybeans had been harvested as of Sunday.

Drought outlook brightens

Some relief is expected in the coming days. The National Weather Service predicts that most of Iowa will get at least an inch of rain in the next seven to 10 days. Significant showers and thunderstorms are expected this weekend, and areas of northwest Iowa could have more than 2 inches of rainfall.

The federal Climate Prediction Center, in a newly released outlook for the rest of the year, says drought conditions might lift from areas of northwest, southwest, central and eastern Iowa. It also says drought conditions in the rest of the state might improve.

Fuchs said winter in Iowa is expected to be warmer than normal with about average precipitation.