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Hot temps gone, but drought lingers

Published: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

The abnormally warm weather that characterized the summer and much of the fall may be a thing of the past this year.

But the dryness that damaged crops and withered lawns earlier this year persisted, leaving the area in a state of drought as what are normally the driest months of the year approach.

Gilbert Sebenste, meteorologist at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, said the region remains in a state of drought because precipitation has remained relatively scarce since spring.

“This is definitely a significant concern,” Sebenste said.

Throughout the year, warm, dry conditions produced a drought in Kane County and the Midwest that markedly reduced this year’s U.S. corn harvest, while damaging other crops and reducing streamflows.

At the end of August almost 70 percent of Illinois was considered to be in extreme drought, which is one category less than the worst drought condition classification by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Fall rains and declining temperatures have eased some problems in Illinois. By Nov. 20, none of the state was considered to be in extreme drought, and about 78 percent of the state was considered to be “abnormally dry,” which is one classification worse than no drought.

About 22 percent of Illinois is considered drought-free.

But Kane County is not so fortunate. The county, along with most of northern Illinois, is classified as being in either a moderate or severe drought, classifications that lie between abnormally dry conditions and extreme drought.

Sebenste said much of the region has received, on average, about 12 fewer inches of precipitation than is normal in 2012.

That means the region will need about six to 12 inches of rain, depending on location, to break the drought before the next growing season.

“If we don’t get significant rain and snows this winter, it’s going to set up some poor conditions heading into next spring,” Sebenste said.

He said the best chances of significant precipitation could come from a relatively wet weather pattern forecasted for mid-December.

But, he said, it likely would not be enough.

Part of the concern lies in the typically dry months of December, January and February, when just about 6.5 inches of precipitation typically falls in the Chicago area, according to the National Weather Service. By contrast, about 4 inches of rain typically falls in the Chicago area in the month of May alone.

Sebenste said forecast models are indicating that a generally dry pattern is expected to dominate the region for the foreseeable future.

And that, he said, could spell trouble for the region next year.

“Having a drought is bad, and a severe drought is worse,” Sebenste said. “But to have a severe drought, two years back-to-back, it would be very, very serious.”

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