Lack of rain this spring has Illinois slipping into drought

(The Center Square) – Illinois is experiencing drought conditions, which means residents should not light fireworks, be careful with cigarettes and campfires. Dry conditions mean risk of wildfires.

The state has officially been declared D-1 on the drought scale, University of Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford said. That means the risk of wildfire and more mindful water usage.

“Much of central Illinois, from the Quad Cities to Danville, and all the northeast corner, the Chicagoland area, are currently in moderate drought conditions. As is western Illinois along the Missouri border,” Ford told The Center Square.

Rainfall across the state has been down by as much as 60% this spring. Stream flow is well below normal. Young trees, bushes and lawns are showing signs of stress. Emerging crops look thirsty.

It’s never good to waste water, Ford said. Right now he’s just trying to raise awareness that conditions are dryer than normal.

This intensity of the dryness this early in the growing season is somewhat rare, Ford said.

“We’ve only seen this level of dryness in April and May, maybe five times in the last 40 years,” he said.

All people can do is take care of the water resources and hope for significant rain in June, Ford said.

A super active June and July, where system after system brings in rain multiple times a week, can make up for the lack of early rainfall. But the norm is more like one system per week.

“There are only four weeks in June. So if you miss one or two of those, you are probably cutting your rainfall in half,” Ford said.

He wants people to be aware of the repercussions of a dry start for the growing season.

“If we stay dry through June and it gets hot, this drought could have larger impacts,” Ford said.

Meantime, don’t forget the rules of water conservation. Streams and water reservoirs can start dropping really quickly, he said.

“Stream levels are low already. But then everybody and their dog sees that their lawn is struggling or their trees or their bushes, they turn the tap on to water them and the streams drop even more,” he said.

Think about what needs water and what can get by without watering, he said.

Ford urges gardeners and people who live near streams and ponds to report drought conditions to the National Drought Mediation Center.

“Anybody who is interested can tell us what things look like,” Ford said. “What does your grass look like? What do the trees look like? If you are digging in the soil, is it dry?”

Ford wants to know if pond or stream levels are low.

“Have you ever seen it this low?” he said.

There’s a reporting app for smartphones. Or people can send an email to [email protected].

Some people send cell phone pictures and Ford loves getting them.

“We really need to hear from people around the state so that we can do the best job of monitoring,” he said.

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