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First Mid Ag Services News

Is 2023 another 2012?

June 6, 2023

Illinois Climate & Water Patterns: A Look at Recent Trends and the Prelude to the 2012 Drought

By: Michael Lauher

My boss, Cory Kaufman, stopped by my office last week and asked, “Have you looked at the Drought Monitor map lately?”.  In fact, I had when doing research on another article.  “It looks awful similar to the map from 2012” he said. 

I hadn’t compared the two, but curiosity got the better of me over the weekend and I took a look.

Here is the map recently published for this year:

picture of 2023 drought map

And here is the map published about the same time of the year in 2012:

Picture of 2012 drought map

Kinda scary, isn’t it?

So, I got to wondering, how closely does the weather leading up to the 2012 drought compare to the weather we’ve recently experienced?  I decided to take a look.

Illinois, renowned as the Prairie State, is often subject to dynamic climate shifts, which have pronounced effects on its agricultural practices, natural environment, and the lives of its inhabitants. This article provides a summary of the recent weather patterns from October 2022 to April 2023, as outlined in the Illinois Water & Climate blog posts. These recent trends are then juxtaposed with the climate conditions preceding the major drought of 2012, revealing both parallels and contrasts.


October 2022 - April 2023: A Brief Overview

The Prairie State started witnessing some intriguing weather changes from October 2022, characterized by lesser precipitation and relatively higher temperatures than the long-term averages. The warmth of October and November preceded a fairly dry winter. Despite being the chilliest months, December and January observed a significant rise in temperatures along with a decrease in snowfall.

The trend of above-average temperatures extended into February and March, hinting at the advent of a dry spring. April, although usually a month of increasing rainfall, fell considerably short of the average precipitation levels, leading to the development of drought conditions in certain regions of Illinois.


Climate Conditions Preceding the 2012 Drought

In order to fully appreciate the severity of the current weather scenario, it is important to look back at the weather patterns that led to the catastrophic 2012 drought. This period of time had several distinct characteristics.

The fall and winter of 2011 in Illinois were marked by more than the usual precipitation levels, leading to high soil moisture. However, by the time spring 2012 rolled around, the state experienced a sharp decrease in precipitation, with April seeing far less rainfall than is typically expected. This precipitous drop in rainfall led to the drying out of the soil and marked the beginning of the drought conditions (source: National Climatic Data Center, 2012).

The latter half of 2011 had seen temperatures that were average or a little above. However, spring 2012 brought with it a sudden increase in temperature which persisted throughout the summer, thereby exacerbating the drought conditions. This 2012 drought had far-reaching implications, notably impacting agriculture and resulting in diminished crop yields and substantial economic losses.


Comparative Study

Examining the two periods under consideration reveals some compelling findings. While both periods observed an increase in temperatures, the rise in recent months has been gradual and sustained over time. On the other hand, the increase in temperatures leading up to the 2012 drought was abrupt and intense.

The key point of divergence between these two periods lies in their respective precipitation patterns. The period before the 2012 drought began with an abundance of rainfall, which abruptly fell, resulting in a severe change in moisture availability. This sharply contrasts with the period from October 2022 to April 2023, which saw a consistent shortfall in rainfall, leading to a slow emergence of drought-like conditions.

In terms of impact, the recent weather patterns have begun to induce drought conditions in some parts of the state. However, the total repercussions have not yet reached the widespread destruction caused by the 2012 drought.


Final Thoughts

Although both periods are marked by an increase in temperatures and decrease in precipitation, the onset and progression of these changes are distinctly different. Yet, it's critical to remember that weather patterns can change rapidly and unpredictably, as demonstrated by the swift onset of the 2012 drought following a period of unusually high rainfall.

Close monitoring of these trends is essential for effective management and mitigation of the impacts of extreme weather events. While our weather scientists and experts continue their important work, it is incumbent upon all of us to stay informed and adapt to these climate shifts.