More Snow This Winter By Itself Won't Make Up Drought Deficit

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-The latest round of snow is putting parts of eastern Iowa back on track for an average amount of winter snow. Thirty inches a year usually falls in Cedar Rapids. After the snowfall Thursday night and Friday morning, the total is almost up to 20 inches with the snowier month of March still ahead.

But will more snow now, compared to last year's drier and warmer winter, do anything to ease the current drought?

Jeff Zogg, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Des Moines said more snow this winter will help—but may be not as much as you'd think.

The general rule of thumb is 10 inches of snow equals one inch of precipitation. And what fell in Cedar Rapids would be just a bit over a half inch of moisture. The problem is this winter the ground is frozen and a lot of the moisture will run off without soaking in.

Becky Lynch is one of the Iowa State Extension Service master gardeners in Linn County. And the drought last summer definitely put a strain on the extensive plantings on her property. She'll welcome any moisture in any form but knows the snow that fell will only do a bit of good.

"At this point, because of the ground being frozen, we're looking at 30 percent of it being a real help to us. The rest of it will go into the groundwater and make it into the river," Lynch said.

With rivers and streams at a very low level now, runoff when the snow melts will help raise water levels. But Zogg said it won't last long and it's not really a drought solution.

Farmers like Larry Jons of Linn County are not overly excited about the growing snowfall totals either. On his farmland, north of Alburnett, he figures it would take about 10 inches of subsoil moisture just to get back to normal. That would take a lot more snow that would ever fall in winter.

"The rain we had a week ago, some of that went into the ground because the ground was still thawed at that time. But right now, we need a lot of rain," Jons said.

Over the winter, the Cedar Rapids area has improved from a serious to a moderate drought category. But the rain that comes, or doesn't come, in March, April and May will do a lot more to determine if things continue to improve to just get worse.
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