Ag Weather Forum

Snow's Impact on Drought

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Snowfall of more than 6 inches in much of the eastern Midwest and Delta stands to put some moisture in the soil profile before spring. (DTN graphic)

Mid-February 2021 finds most of the contiguous United States dealing with extreme winter storm conditions. Bitter cold, wind chill values at life-threatening levels; heavy snow and freezing precipitation, including in areas that are unprepared for such events; safety and survival challenges to people, animals and plants -- we're getting it all. This winter storm is in the same category as the brutal mid-February 2014 cold wave and may surpass that one when it's all done.

It's challenging to find positive aspects of this harsh situation, especially when it's so cold that we are warned to stay inside no matter how many layers of insulation and quilting we pile on. Essential work and commerce is flat-out tough to get done. Livestock chores take on a cold life of their own in this weather. And even building a snowman takes more than five minutes.

Snowfall in the eastern Midwest will offer some soil moisture potential. The ratio of snow to measure liquid moisture is in the range of 12 inches snow to 1 inch of water in this storm. Snowfall will vary, from 4 inches to almost a foot. That puts the effective water content of the snow in the range of 0.3-1 inch of moisture. The heavier snow and moisture are indicated over the Ohio Valley. Farther south, a combination of freezing precipitation and snow in the Delta and Southeast offers from 1.5 inches to over 3 inches of water equivalent precipitation.

Western Midwest and Plains areas have had mixed precipitation benefit from snowfall. Snow water equivalent amounts of 1 to 4 inches are noted in eastern Nebraska; central and eastern Iowa; and central through eastern Minnesota. Elsewhere, less than 1 inch of effective moisture is indicated. A big issue is the bitter cold; Dodge City, Kansas had a record low temperature of minus-11 degrees Fahrenheit Feb. 14. The previous record low of minus-5 Fahrenheit was posted back in 1884.

During the coming week, the bitter cold pattern will not offer much melting of the snow across the interior of the U.S. Forecast models do indicate a return to more of zonal west to east flow during the last half of the week. That offers the prospect of a warming trend during the six- to 10-day period along with allowing for snow melt and maybe some infiltration into the soil profile. That means mud, of course -- the challenging follow-up to a winter storm system.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

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