A week of rain and unseasonable warmth in January replenished the ground with enough water to eliminate dry conditions across Indiana except for the far northern part of the state. The report by the State Climate Office, based at Purdue University, is good news for crop farmers, who rely on rain and snow over the winter to "recharge" soils with water needed for spring plantings.
"We can't overemphasize the significance of this recharge in creating the much-needed reserves of soil moisture that can help alleviate the impacts of dry conditions if we start getting that around planting time," says Dev Niyogi, state climatologist. "While the general outlook is for normal rains in coming months, our recent experience guides us to think the threat of drought again is just round the corner and not off the mind or landscape. These rains and snow events are critical."
Farmers were discouraged at the end of November as drought seemed to creep back, especially in Indiana's northern tier of counties. Drought maps changed little over the next six weeks until a dramatic warm-up Jan. 8-12 melted snowpacks and allowed the ground to thaw. Temperatures ranged from the upper 50s in the north to near 70° F in the southwest.
The climate office said light rain fell every day during the warm spell and became heavy on Jan. 13, with as much as 6 in. of rain for the week in the extreme southwest counties. One to 3 in. was common elsewhere, except for extreme northwest Indiana.
There was so much rain so quickly in some places that the ground couldn't hold all of it, resulting in runoff to rivers and streams that exceeded flood stage for a few days.
The results of the rain are seen in the Jan. 24 update of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Abnormally dry conditions – the lowest level of dryness – that had persisted in central and southern Indiana have been erased. The area of moderate drought – the first level of drought – in the north has shrunk to just a few northwestern counties. That area needs about 3 inches of rain to return to normal. Northeastern Indiana has improved from moderate drought conditions to abnormally dry. It needs about 1.5 in. of rain.
The outlook for soil moisture recharge into the early spring is encouraging, the climate office said. A current Pacific Ocean neutral weather pattern – neither El Niño nor La Niña – is expected to persist through spring. A year ago at this time, Indiana was in a La Niña pattern, which favors summer drought in the region.
The latest monthly report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration signals a cool February with equal chances of above-normal, normal or below-normal precipitation. Further ahead, the outlook through April – a busy month for farmers planting their crops – favors above-normal precipitation.