Why we need rain right now, even with an 8-inch surplus

It's no secret we are still hanging onto quite the rainfall surplus for 2019, with nearly 8.5 inches in the black for the year to date so far. However, all of that surplus came from the winter and spring months. While it's certainly good to have that surplus on the deck, what isn't helpful is the fact that we haven't seen any widespread rains for a number of days.

While the total for the year may be in surplus, during the summer we really need to focus on the short-term pattern. That trend has been dry as we now sit with a rainfall deficit of 2.53 inches for the month of July. It will likely continue to grow before we officially close out the month in the next few days.

As Meteorologist Morgan Strackbein told us this past week the Quad Cities is now officially registered on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln drought monitor. Our current state sits at abnormally dry, which is the lowest level on the scale.  It's a sign though that our short-term precipitation has certainly been lacking and you can certainly see that by just looking at your yard, especially if you don't have an irrigation system. So, how did we get ourselves here? Time for some physics!

The sun's strongest energy arrives in May and sticks around through August. That's when we see our "solar energy" maximum for the entire year. The sun's rays are very powerful which is evident if you are outside without sunscreen for any period of time. These stronger waves of energy can also evaporate copious amounts of water, as much as a quarter of an inch of liquid per day! When we go days without replenishing that moisture, like what we have done recently, the topsoil begins to quickly dry out. That is exactly what is taking place now. Just looking at the 8-inch soil moisture levels from May until now, you can see a sharp decline in those levels.

What does this impact? Mainly plants, crops, and your yard of course. This isn't the kind of water shortage that will have wells drying up by any means. Groundwater remains quite plentiful thanks to the abundance of moisture from earlier in the year that has settled, but the lack of that moisture at the surface will certainly begin to have greater impacts if it isn't replenished soon, especially when it comes to agriculture.

This dry pattern does work somewhat in our favor, though. It means when we eventually get back into a pattern that features heavy rain, the ground will quickly drink it up and limit the threat for widespread flash flooding. The biggest question? When does that active pattern return? Preliminary forecasts are calling for the activity to pick up in the next few weeks. We'll hope that includes some beneficial rains right here in the Quad Cities!

Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke

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