March fifth-wettest on record for Cape

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rainfall well above normal has helped large parts of Illinois and Missouri recover from drought conditions experienced since last spring.

During March Cape Girardeau received 8.02 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky. That is nearly 3.5 inches above the normal 4.57 inches, making the month the fifth wettest March on record.

Those rains have helped replenish surface water and some groundwater supplies in the area, said Gerald Bryan, agronomist with the University of Missouri Extension Service in Cape Girardeau County. However, groundwater tables are still low in some areas of Southeast Missouri, thanks in part to a lack of rain further west -- water that would drain into the area, Bryan said.

Bryan also said the kind of quick, strong rains associated with the thunderstorms that rolled through the area last month typically pour so much water onto the ground that much of it drains away into rivers as runoff and doesn't reach the groundwater supply.

Still, Southeast Missouri's water supply is in the best shape of any region in the state, said Joe Engeln with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

"You've had fairly abundant rains, and you're not considered to be in any form of drought or dryness," Engeln said.

Whereas the drought that started last spring continues in the southwest part of the state, Southeast Missouri reversed its drought conditions with a string of rains from hurricane and tropical storm remnants late last summer.

Conditions remain dire in the southwest part of the state, as reservoirs and groundwater supplies continue to dry up.

Low soil moisture in Southwest Missouri could cause significant problems for farmers, especially since the region has fewer sources of water for irrigation than Southeast Missouri has, Engeln said.

While spring rains had little effect on the drought in the southwest part of the state, they slightly alleviated the northern Missouri drought.

Engeln said soil moisture in Southeast Missouri -- which receives 50 percent more rainfall yearly than the northwest corner -- is high at this time.

The condition is similar in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reports the state received an average rainfall of 4.79 inches in March, 1.57 inches above normal. Those rains have helped alleviate drought conditions in the northern and western part of the state, said Illinois State Water Survey climatologist Jim Angel.

Last year at this time was the start of the drought in those areas, and rains were sparse. But like Southeast Missouri, Angel said, Southern Illinois had the best water conditions in the state during last year's continuing drought.

He said the southern and central parts of Illinois should have no worries about water this season, except that muddy fields have slowed planting a bit.

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