MT. VERNON, Ill. — Illinois experienced one of the worst
droughts on record last year, but if history is a guide, there will not be a
repeat in 2013.
“Just because we had a drought in 2012 doesn’t mean we have
an increased chance for drought in 2013,” Jim Angel, Illinois climatologist,
told farmers here. “That’s not to say it’s not impossible. But historically,
these tend to be single-year events. Usually the next year we have average
rainfall or it rockets off into the other direction.”
The severe droughts of the 1930s were followed by
near-normal years. That also occurred in droughts of the 1950s. In addition, the
long-term trend since the 1960s has been for above-average precipitation.
Illinois farmers also may want to put the drought into
“If you compare our water problems with the water problems
out west, most of those guys would die for the kind of rainfall we get and the
other water sources in terms of lakes, streams and rivers,” Angel said.
“Even though on paper it looks like we’re short on
precipitation, dry here would be very wet out west. Even with the 30 inches of
precipitation we had for a statewide average last year, that’s still
above-average precipitation for Nebraska.”
Large portions of Kansas and Nebraska remain in severe
drought. And while all of Illinois may not have totally recovered, much of the
state is getting back to normal.
Remnants of Hurricane Isaac brought the state a long way
toward recovery, as it dumped some steady rain over much of Illinois around
“For us, that’s just what the doctor ordered — a nice big,
slow-moving system with a lot of moisture that falls at a fairly slow rate,”
“That’s a great way to recharge the soil. You don’t want 5
inches in 20 minutes. You want 5 inches over a three-day period, and that’s
pretty much what we got out of this system.”
It was a unique occurrence.
“We hadn’t really had much experience having a large system
like this move over a drought-stricken area,” Angel said. “Most of the other
times they fell over areas that were already kind of wet. So we were expecting a
lot of flooding. In Champaign they were practically building levees on the
streets, but we had 3 ½ inches and I never saw a mud puddle the whole time. It
soaked right into the ground like a giant sponge. There was virtually no
The state hydrologist for the Illinois Water Survey
quantified the phenomenon. Though a large portion of the state received 4 to 6
inches of rain from Isaac, there was only 0.1 inches of runoff.
“A lot of it disappeared. It recharged the soil moisture,
which was definitely needed,” Angel said. “But the lakes and streams didn’t
respond much to that event. Fortunately, we had some more rains come after
Droughts defy convenient measurements, according to Angel.
“There is no hard and fast definition,” he said. “It’s hard
to define. Basically, it’s some long-term period of below-average precipitation
that has some impacts on the local environment.
“Among other things, a drought doesn’t have a defined
beginning and end. Last year was a good case in point. It’s not like a blizzard