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Nine things to know about the current dry spell

LaSalle News Tribune

Wednesday, September 13, 2017  |  Article  |  

Agriculture (2)

A stretch of dry weather has lowered lakes and streams and left soil parched, a trend that began in June. It has been mostly rain-free for two weeks.

Illinois Drought Monitor

Watch drought develop over 13 weeks in Illinois, from June 13 to Sept. 5. Maps from U.S. Drought Monitor.


One-tenth in two weeks

The last measurable rain in La Salle County was eight days ago, and that was less than one-tenth of an inch. The next previous rainfall came Aug. 29. From Aug. 12 to Sept. 10, La Salle County saw a rainfall deficit of 2-3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Drought developing

The southern tip of La Salle County was ranked as abnormally dry in the latest weekly update from the National Drought Mitigation Center. Moderate drought was forming about 45 miles to the south and severe drought was present about 175 miles west in Iowa. However, this dry spell is well short of conditions seen in the drought of 2012.


The state’s topsoil and subsoil moisture is taking a hit. Only one-third of the state’s topsoil was rated as adequate for crops. Subsoil moisture was adequate on only 43 percent of crop acres, according to this week’s Illinois crop progress and condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Two of the state’s nine agriculture districts reported no rainfall in the previous seven days.

Illinois State Water Survey reports soil moisture 20 inches deep has steadily dropped since July 1 at six of seven stations across northern Illinois. At 8 inches deep, the loss is even greater, with all seven stations show moisture losses of 14 percent to 48 percent since July 1.


Most corn and soybeans across the state were reported in fair to good condition, according to the crop report. However, dry and cool weather in late summer slowed growth and therefore, yields are not expected to be as high as forecasted, observers are predicting. The dry weather, however, has given farmers more days for fieldwork.

Illinois River

Nine things to know about the current dry spell

You can nearly walk across the west end of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in Peru. Dry weather has lowered water levels in the canal and in the Illinois River. However, the portion east of Lock 14 in La Salle retains water from a pump during dry periods, which allows the canal tour boat to operate.

The river is at its lowest stage of the year, measuring 11 feet this week in La Salle. However, the river is typically low in late summer and has hit this low point in the past several years.

“We’re running a little bit low but we’re not at record lows yet,” said Chris Rush, lockmaster at Starved Rock Lock and Dam.

The river elevation Tuesday at the dam was 441.04 feet, and flat pool is 440.3 feet, Rush said. Flat pool is the water elevation between two dams when little or no water is flowing, so named because the pool flattens out.

Dredging was under way between Spring Valley and DePue to clear out a spot in the channel, Rush said.

On the flipside, lowered water level exposes sediments to air in backwaters, which can renew plant life and benefit wildlife on the river, biologists say.

Streams low

Some streams in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties are seeing moderate drought, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Northern Illinois streams, with their higher percentage of flow from groundwater, are less vulnerable to short-term drought than in southern Illinois, according to the State Climatologist Office.

Canal OK

The Illinois and Michigan Canal at La Salle is holding plenty of water for tour boat rides. During low water, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources pumps water into this section of the canal, according to the Canal Corridor Association.

Long-term forecast

The outlook shows an increased probability of below normal precipitation this month in northern Illinois, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Most of Illinois has an increased chance of being dry as does most of the western half of the Midwest and the Plains states.

Short-term forecast

The short-term forecast looks pretty dry. A chance to a slight chance of showers is forecast Saturday night to Monday, according to the National Weather Service.