Crawford County, along with much of the state, has been going through a dry spell in recent months, but that could be about to change.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about half of Illinois is experiencing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions. All but the northern-most part of Crawford County is abnormally dry, as is most of Jasper County and all of Lawrence County. Clark County, however, is not dry.
In the last six months, only 8.72 inches of rain and snow have fallen here. This is down from more than 23.2 inches for the comparative six-month period a year earlier.
Other areas in the state have seen less precipitation. All or part of 19 counties - mostly in the western half of the state - are experiencing moderate drought. Parts of Monroe, Greene, St. Clair, Madison, Jersey and Calhoun are suffering severe drought.
State Climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey said there are places around the St. Louis area that are down six to 10 inches below normal precipitation. However, the heart of Illinois is in good shape.
"If you start going south of here and especially southwest of here, things start to dry out near St. Louis," Angel said during a recent Agronomy Day event. "This will probably be a bigger discussion once we get into the growing season."
Illinois is not alone; many parts of the country are experiencing drought conditions. However, because it is winter, the impact is not as severe.
"You don't hear about places running out of water and things like that," Angel said. "So, the fact that we're in a drought hasn't really hit the headline news quite yet, but that may change if this weather continues."
Areas in the southwestern United States are experiencing severe drought, while parts of western Oklahoma are setting records for consecutive days without precipitation.
"There are some places there that have exceeded 100 days without seeing a drop of rain," Angel said.
Snowy days are in the forecast for Crawford County, although little accumulation is anticipated. Still, a general trend toward wetter weather is in the offing for the Midwest, according to Angel.
"In February, March and April we're going to see more cold air creeping into Illinois giving us colder temperatures and wetter conditions," Angel said. "This is pretty classic La Niña and it matches up with the thinking that this will disappear in spring." He explained La Niña weather patterns are not as consistent as El Niño patterns, so they are harder to predict.
"I will also say there is evidence of increased snowfall during La Niña events," Angel added. "We really haven't seen that yet in Illinois, but past studies indicate this La Niña weather can come on late, so the February and March period could actually be quite snowy. So, as far as snow goes, we may not be out of the woods yet."
Illinois' spring should be wetter, Angel predicted, but summer could be drier again. Just how much drier is unknown. It is also too soon to tell if the state will be cooler or hotter than usual later in the year.
"There is some circumstantial evidence that we could have some troubles this year in the summer if that La Niña sticks around, but that is still unknown at this point," Angel said.
On the Illinois State Water Survey website, Angel explained drought is a "complex physical and social phenomenon of widespread significance" and despite all the problems droughts have caused, they remain difficult to define.
There is no universally accepted definition because drought, unlike flood, is not a distinct event. Also, it is often the result of many complex factors acting on and interacting within the environment.
Complicating the problem is the fact that drought often has neither a distinct start nor end, he pointed out. It is usually recognizable only after a period of time and, because it may be interrupted by short wet spells, its termination is difficult to recognize.
There are three types of drought:
Meteorological or climatological drought - a period of well-below-average precipitation that spans from a few months to a few years.
Agricultural drought - a period when soil moisture is inadequate to meet the demands for crops to initiate and sustain plant growth.
Hydrological Drought - a period of below-average streamflow or depleted reservoir storage.
One of the most severe recent droughts occurred in 2012. Crawford and many neighboring counties suffered extreme to exceptional drought conditions in July and August that year.