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Serving: WI

Drought Takes Hold in Southern Wisconsin

Drought Takes Hold in Southern Wisconsin
Dane County set a record for the least amount of rain in June with only 0.31 inches being recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison.

Southern Wisconsin is creeping into a drought while the northwest part of the state is receiving plentiful rain.

"We started the growing season with drought sneaking into northwest Wisconsin and now it is the southern half that is dry," says Bill Bland, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural climatologist.

"The southern tier of counties is presently short of rainfall by as much as five inches," Bland said, "a serious deficit coming on the heels of the exceptionally early start to the growing season."

LACKING MOISTURE: Dane County set a new record and Bill Bland, University of Wisconsin extension climatologist, notes the southern tier of counties is short as much as five inches.

According to Bland, southern Wisconsin received very little rain in June. Dane County set a record for the least amount of rain in June, with only 0.31 inches being recorded in Madison at the Dane County Regional Airport.

He noted that the previous record low rainfall in June was in 1973 with 0.81 inches recorded. July and August of that year received only 63% of normal rainfall.

Bland says July typically brings four inches of rain.

"That's as good of forecast as any. The National Weather Service cannot provide us with anything other than history," Bland says.

Seasonal outlooks issued June 21 by the National Weather Service suggest that a warmer-than-average summer is likely, because of low soil moisture over so much of the central U.S.

"It is never possible to pinpoint just when a long dry spell becomes a damaging drought, but southern Wisconsin will be in the grips of one without at least a couple of inches of rainfall by mid-July," Bland says.

Is 2012 shaping up to be a drought year like 1988?

"In May and June this year, Columbia County had 3.1 inches of rain," Bland reports. "Normal would be 8.4 inches. In 1988, Columbia County had 2.5 inches."

In 1988, Columbia County received 1.5 inches of rain in July and August 2.9 inches. Normal rainfall for July and August is 8.06 inches.

In 1988, Bland says, "We were behind the 8-ball quite substantially in May already. But June in 1988 wasn't quite as bad a June as this year."

Columbia County received .26 of inch of rain in June this year.

"It's interesting if you look at these months, June is supposed to be our most rainy at 4.7 inches," he says. "So June is where we really lost out."

"Because of evaporation, we need about an inch a week in July and August. But we can still get a good crop with a bit less than that," he says.

Meanwhile, Greg Andrews, Pierce County Extension crops and soils agent reports that his county, located along the Mississippi River in northwestern Wisconsin, received 17 inches of rain in May and June during six rain events.

"The most rain we had in one storm was 4 inches of rain which caused some soil erosion in areas, but overall our crops look phenomenal."

Bland is still optimistic that southern Wisconsin will get rain soon.

"There is no pattern to suggest to the folks who study this stuff that our drought will worsen," he notes. "It's much more likely that the drought will break rather than persist. It's already been a low probability that we would get this dry. That said, if we stay dry through July 25, then the crops (in southern Wisconsin) will be in pretty tough shape."

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