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Recent rain has eased droughts in Missouri and Illinois. But the states remain dry

The sun sets on a field of corn on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Carbondale, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The sun sets on a field of corn in July 2022 in Carbondale, Ill. The corn and soybean crops in Missouri and Illinois are in better condition because of the recent rain.

Drought conditions in Missouri and Illinois have improved over the past few weeks thanks to the widespread rainfall both states saw in that time period.

The most recent map from the U.S. Drought Monitor, published Thursday, shows that much of central Missouri is no longer in extreme drought and that a large portion of Illinois is now just abnormally dry.

“Areas across Missouri and Illinois, parts of Iowa and Indiana received at least two inches of rainfall,” said Brad Pugh, who authored the most recent drought map. “That did help to improve drought conditions for many areas.”

The improvements came on the heels of rainfall that wasn’t too intense, said Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford. The ground cannot absorb all of the water from heavy rains, meaning a lot of that water runs off, he added.

“A lot of the places got rain that was over a number of hours,” he said. “Better soaking rains that were able to infiltrate the soil and improve our soil moisture conditions.”

Ford cautioned that most of the Midwest, including Missouri and Illinois, is still in drought ranging from severe to extreme.

“But as far as soil conditions are concerned, streamflow conditions are concerned, crop conditions are concerned, things have improved quite a bit since the beginning or middle part of July,” he said.

The corn and soybean crops in Missouri and Illinois are also in better condition because of the recent rain, meaning it didn’t come too late in the growing season to make a difference, Ford said. But the rain doesn’t completely negate the previous weeks of drought, he added.

Consistent precipitation remains important for the rest of the growing season and into the fall and winter, Pugh said.

“The precipitation in those months are very important because that’s the time of year you recharge soil moisture, especially across areas like Missouri, closer to the Ohio River where the soils don’t freeze up over the winter,” he said.

While Missouri and Illinois are faring better because of the recent rain, states in the Upper Mississippi River basin weren’t as lucky.

The bands of rain largely did not fall in states farther north, including Minnesota and Wisconsin, which could still affect the Mississippi River, Ford said.

“The rain we’ve gotten over the last couple of weeks in Missouri and Illinois have definitely helped keep us out of low flow conditions along the lower Mississippi,” he said. “We’re still very dry in the upper parts of the basin north of the Quad Cities. That could still affect flow.”

The whole basin needs consistent and gentile rain, ideally between a half-inch and an inch and a half a week, Ford said. Looking forward, he said he’s also paying attention to any tropical storms or hurricanes that may form in the particularly warm Gulf of Mexico.

Remnants of those systems can drop significant rain over the Midwest if they move over the region.

“Especially in dry falls, the boost of rainfall from dying or already dead tropical storms can be really beneficial,” Ford said. “That is something we didn’t see last year.”

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.