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Wet January creates flooding issues across Illinois

Many fields across Illinois, such as this one in Mason County, received above-average precipitation last month, which created some flooding issues. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)



Welcomed precipitation across most of the state in late January contributed to what has been a slow journey to recovery from the 2023 drought.

Illinois received an average of 4.25 inches of precipitation Jan. 1-29, which was 2.53 inches above normal, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Illinois field office reported. The active pattern created some flooding issues and extremely muddy conditions.

“We made up some serious ground in drought relief over the last few weeks in southern Illinois,” State Climatologist Trent Ford told FarmWeek. “Deep-layer soil and water table levels are still much below average, but they’re improving.”

Looking back on a rollercoaster crop season, a dry start to summer pushed the entire state into drought by late June and while timely summer rains limited significant row crop impacts, a dry fall reignited the drought causing low water levels on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Many bodies of water, including Salt Creek along the Mason and Menard county line, rose near or beyond flood stage in parts of the state last week due to heavy precipitation and snowmelt. Ice jams on streams and rivers also contributed to flooding issues in some areas. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

The tables turned again in January.

Ford said levels on the Mississippi River between Cairo and Memphis, Tennessee, have increased 10 to 15 feet in some areas over the past couple of weeks. While significant rainfall is encouraging, it will take a lot more to reach normal river levels due to the intensity of drought experienced across the entire Midwest down into the southern states.

Meanwhile, some bodies of water, including the Illinois and Rock rivers, reached or surpassed flood stage last week. Ice jams also contributed to flooding issues at some locations.

A similar story can be told for soil moisture levels across the state. Ford said there has been significant progress replenishing moisture, but especially in southern and western Illinois, two years of drought conditions have dried up deeper level soils.

“For example, our well at the water survey site in Belleville, the water tables are still 10 feet deeper than what we typically expect this time of year,” he said.

The topsoil moisture supply ranked 57% adequate, 39% surplus and just 4% short statewide as of Jan. 28, according to NASS.

February is usually the driest month of the year, so Ford is not expecting much help in the near term, but he said, “The biggest determinant for crop impacts from drought is how much rain falls in spring and summer.

“So even if we come in with fairly dry soils in the spring, if we get enough rain this summer, there won’t be that many impacts.”

On the flip side, if there is a dry pattern in the spring and summer, Ford said Illinois remains in a vulnerable state for drought, but that does not mean a repeat of 2023 is inevitable.

“Because there isn’t a strong signal pointing to drought in spring and summer, I’m not overly concerned at this time,” he said. “The 2023 drought was not predicted very well more than a few weeks out, so we’ll have to wait and see what weather we get come April and May.”

At the end of January, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed parts of western Illinois and the entire southern third of the state were experiencing abnormally dry conditions with 18% in moderate drought.


This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit


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