Rainfall has caused crop conditions to become more balanced

Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | August 24, 2022

After excessive rainfall last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that crop conditions in Iowa have stabilized.  

State Climatologist Justin Glisan reported that Iowa received 23% more rain than usual. Northwest Iowa, which had been in a drought, received substantial amounts of these rainfalls.  

The rain caused a significant reversal in numbers from last week’s report. According to last Monday’s USDA report, more than 60% of Iowa’s corn is excellent. Soybeans report went down one percent with now just over 60% of the crop as excellent.  

The state’s Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said, “While showers and thunderstorms brought heavier totals across the drought region, we need several months of above-average precipitation to relieve the most intense drought conditions.”  

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the state has seen drought conditions becoming more severe in the past months. The state’s Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said, “While showers and thunderstorms brought heavier totals across the drought region, we need several months of above-average precipitation to relieve the most intense drought conditions.” 

Climate change increases intensity of likely California megaflood

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | August 15, 2022

California hasn’t experienced a megaflood since 1862, but research published on Aug. 12 shows that the nation’s most populous state with over 39 million people is due for another, and climate change could intensify it. California can normally be observed as a water scarcity state with recurring droughts and wildfires, but research in Science Advances said climate change has already doubled the likelihood of disastrous flooding, and this is likely to increase with continuous warming. 

The Great Flood of 1862 is considered the biggest flood in modern history. The megastorm 160 years ago destroyed one-third of the state’s property, killed 4,000 people, and caused over 200,000 cows to starve or drown. The flood started with a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada in Dec. 1861 with 15 feet of snow that fell over California’s eastern mountains. After the snowstorm and for the next 40 days, warm rain and high winds poured in and destroyed homes and streets. Sacramento to the San Joaquin Valley, which is 300 miles long by 20 miles wide, was completely underwater. 

Although no one knows exactly when the new megaflood will occur, when it does, atmospheric currents from tropical air near the equator will push water vapor, which will be hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long, to the West Coast. This will cause countless weeks of rain and snow, with a predicted two inches of rain per hour in Los Angeles. 

Daniel Swain, one of the authors of the study, told the Washington Post that some areas in the state are likely to see 70 to 80 inches of rain, with a few places reaching 100 inches in just 30 days. 

Forecasters say there is a 0.5 to 1 percent chance of the flood occurring in any given year but are confident that it will happen. For now, Swain and his work are pushing officials to notice the likelihood and prepare for the disaster.

Iowa expects to get drenched

Iowa expects dark and stormy skies for the next several days (flickr).

Julia Poska | October 5th, 2018

After its third-wettest September on record, Iowa can expect a rainy October, too. The DesMoines Register reported that 4 to 5 inches of rain are forecasted to fall over most of the state in next few days. For some localities, it’s already started.

Southwest Iowa may be hit the hardest. Forecasts there predict 6 or more inches of rain.

The rain is expected to fall almost endlessly at least into early next week. National Weather Service meteoroligst Brooke Hagenhoff told the Register that the widespread nature of the forecast will likely increase the rainfall’s impacts on rivers and low-lying areas.

Some parts of the state are already saturated. Despite a fairly dry start to the month, flood alerts have been active for parts of the Des Moines, Cedar and Iowa Rivers throughout this week thanks to late-September rains in northern Iowa. The Iowa Flood Information System gauged a major flood stage for the Wapsipinicon River at DeWitt as of Wednesday afternoon.


August rainfall benefits some parts of Iowa

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 11.42.30 AM
August rainfall saved much of Iowa from severe drought conditions, but parts of south central are still experiencing extreme dryness. (Iowa DNR)

Jenna Ladd| August 25, 2017

Rainfall in the last part of August helped to lift many parts of Iowa out of drought conditions, but some parts of the state are still experiencing extreme drought, according to the latest Water Summary Update.

The Water Summary Update is a succinct monthly report of Iowa’s water resources and those events that affect them prepared by the technical staff at Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, and the U.S. Geological Survey, in partnership with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department.

The latest summary revealed that while August started off very dry, high rain totals increased groundwater levels and streamflow in many parts of the state. The total area of the state classified as experiencing drought or dryness decreased from over 70 percent at the beginning of the month to 55 percent this week. In contrast, south central Iowa is still experiencing D2 and D3 drought conditions. Clarke county and Wapello county are seeing the most extreme dryness.

Researchers point out that August temperatures this year have been about three to four degrees cooler than normal, on average. Lower temperatures slow down evaporation rates and provide a protective factor for crops in drought-stricken areas.

To follow Iowa DNR’s regular water summary update, visit their website here.

Wet conditions hamper fieldwork in May

Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)

KC McGinnis | June 2, 2015

Rain, cool temperatures and standing water halted Iowa farmers for parts of last month, slowing crop progress by limiting suitable days in the field.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that in the last week of May just 2.3 days were suitable for fieldwork across the state, with only 1.7 suitable days for southwest Iowa. Topsoil moisture was rated at above surplus for 50% of southwest and south central Iowa, and 22% across the state. That’s compared to last year, when only 7% of Iowa topsoil was at surplus moisture.

This excess moisture has made it difficult for farmers to get in their fields, leading to lags in soybean planting and alfalfa hay first cutting, which was only at about half the five-year average. Some operators reported standing water in their fields, and some fields will need to be replanted due to the excess water. The moisture also prevented spraying, and led to concerns over muddy feedlots.

While 92% of soybeans were planted by the end of May last year, this year’s numbers were at 50% or less for parts of the state, with southwest Iowa reaching only 37%.

Iowa faced a similar situation last year, with consistent heavy rains in June and July leading to less than three suitable field days for three consecutive weeks. “We just came through three of our most challenging years, as far as weather goes,” noted northeast Iowa farmer Travis Holthaus in a recent CGRER documentary. Heavy rains, flash flooding and challenging droughts continue to lead to increased unpredictability for Iowa farmers. These producers may need to prepare for decreased field days in the next week as well, with more storms predicted later this week.

Iowa farmers hope for more precipitation in August

Nick Fetty | August 7, 2014

Image via Iowa Environmental Mesonet
Image via Iowa Environmental Mesonet

After excessive precipitation in June, July saw a bit of a dry spell, so Iowa farmers are hoping for a little more rainfall in August.

Heavy rainfall yesterday dropped more than 6 inches of rain on portions of western Iowa while much of the east side of the state saw less than an inch. Prior to Wednesday’s showers, there was less than an inch of rain during the previous three weeks which raised concerns for farmers. While July saw lower than average precipitation levels, temperatures were also lower than average which meant crops and other vegetation required less water.

According to this week’s USDA crop update, 77 percent of Iowa’s corn and 74 percent of the soy bean crop are rated as good or excellent. The report also finds that Iowa’s pastures and ranges are struggling the most with 8 percent classified as poor or very poor.

A chance of scattered showers are in the forecast for the rest of the day today while the weekend looks to be mostly dry.

Video highlights Iowa farmer challenged by weather extremes

Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)
Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)

Extreme weather is taking a toll on Corning, Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser, as seen in a recent video produced by documentary organization The Story Group.

Gaesser, who has been farming for over 45 years, said extreme weather has become more common over the last ten years, during which his costs of growing crops have gone up almost five times. Among the added expenses were new machinery and costly soil infrastructure investments.

The extreme weather also means lost time for farmers in Iowa, where heavy rain in June and July reduced suitable fieldwork days to less than two per week in some parts of the state, making it more difficult for farmers like Gaesser to maintain their crops.

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, human-induced global warming is responsible for the increased number and strength of extreme weather events like heavy downpours. These increases are attributed to warmer air, which can hold more water vapor than cooler air. The greatest increase in heavy rain has been seen in the Northeast and Midwest.

With the National Climate Assessment predicting an increase in climate disruptions to agricultural production over the next 25 years, farmers like Gaesser will need to further adapt to lost days in the field and added stresses like crop disease and soil erosion. These adaptation measures will be necessary to prevent serious consequences for food security in the United States.

Rainfall slowing fieldwork and crop progress in Iowa

Rain falling on a field near Mr. Vernon. Rich Herrmann/Flickr
Rain falling on a field near Mr. Vernon. Rich Herrmann/Flickr

A third consecutive week of above-average rainfall across the state limited farmers’ fieldwork and put added stress on crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report for the week.

There were just 2.6 days suitable for fieldwork statewide between June 30 and July 6, the third straight week with less than three days for farmers to be in their fields. That number reached as low as 1.4 days in central Iowa. Wet conditions prevented equipment from getting into fields, setting back weed control and slowing alfalfa hay baling.

The rain has also put some crops behind schedule, with oats turning color and soybeans blooming ahead of last year but at below average rates.

Fortunately, most Iowa fields have remained stable, with 76% of corn and 73% of soybean crops listed in good to excellent condition. Warm and dry weather will be needed to get crops back on schedule, yet more precipitation in the forecast may present continued challenges to Iowa farmers.

Asphalt: both victim and culprit of Iowa flooding

Flood damage to Highway 1 north of Solon after 2008 floods. John Johnson/Flickr
Flood damage to Highway 1 north of Solon after 2008 floods. John Johnson/Flickr

Heavy rainfall throughout Iowa over the weekend caused flash floods in several cities, resulting in two deaths and causing millions of dollars in infrastructure damage.

Some of the most striking damage was to Iowa’s roads. Floods closed off residential roads and highways across the state, including Iowa Highway 14 north of Marshalltown and sections of Highway 330. Emergency repairs have closed off Highway 1 near Mt. Vernon after floodwaters washed out a bridge on Monday.

Asphalt and concrete play a unique role in flooding as both victim and culprit of the damage. The surfaces of our roads and highways are made of two of the least absorbent materials around, resulting in immediate runoff and significant damage if drainage systems aren’t in place. This often results in heavy damage to roads and structures themselves, when the combination of soaked and washed-out soil beneath and high pressure from floodwaters above causes cracks, displacement and collapses.

Fortunately, most Iowa cities have vast drainage infrastructures to prevent roads from becoming waterlogged. Yet continued heavy rains, like Iowa’s record rainfall in June, will continue to put those systems to the test.

High rainfall may lead to record flooding in Northwest Iowa by Saturday

Iowa Environmental Mesonet graphic of rainfall totals from 6 a.m. June 15 to 6 a.m. June 18.
Iowa Environmental Mesonet graphic of rainfall totals from 6 a.m. June 15 to 6 a.m. June 18.

With sections of Iowa seeing as much as ten inches of rain over the last 72 hours and more rain in the forecast, Iowans are bracing for record flooding and water damage across the state.

The National Weather Service predicts the Big Sioux River at Sioux City to reach dangerously high levels by Saturday, topping out at 109 feet, 0.7 feet higher than the record of 108.3 feet set in April of 1969. Once the river level reaches 108 feet, sandbagging will be required to protect Interstate 29 from flooding.

Big Sioux River level predictions for this week (National Weather Service)
Big Sioux River level predictions for this week (National Weather Service)

The predictions come at a time when Northwest Iowa is already overwhelmed by rainfall, with a levee break in Rock Valley Tuesday causing the city to lose power to three of its four wells and inundation of drinking water treatment plants putting the area under a boil warning. The city is currently under a state of emergency.

The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) currently lists areas along the Big Sioux River under a Major Flood Stage, with Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas also at risk. Continued rainfall this week will continue to raise water levels across the state. To see current levels and real-time information on Iowa’s rivers, visit the IFIS website.