Far northwest Iowa, however, has seen much less rainfall this fall and unfortunately even in normal times usually receives less precipitation than eastern Iowa during winter and spring. "Thus, prospects for a full profile of soil moisture by next growing season are not good in that corner of the state," says Hillaker.
The situation is similar to the major drought that gripped the state in 1988-89, when the first year brought severe heat and the second year brought water shortages. "We've missed any chance of getting a lot of recharge of soil moisture in the ground this fall," says Robert Libra, state geologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "People should be thinking about what they'll do if spring turns out to be dry."
Dry spring could mean mandatory reductions in water use by homeowners, businesses
Libra says some changes have occurred since 1988-89 that could lessen the impact of another prolonged drought. For example, many rural well owners have now connected their homes and livestock farms to rural water districts, a water source that wasn't as widely available in 1988-89 in Iowa. But rural water systems also face new challenges that weren't as severe as 25 years ago, including demands from large livestock confinement operations. "I anticipate that if it stays dry, we will have some mandatory reductions" in water use by homeowners and businesses," says Libra.
A few water utilities around Iowa, including the Des Moines Waterworks at one point, asked residents to conserve water earlier this year. Libra says his department is developing a system to track such water-conservation efforts.
How does drought of 2012 compare with 1988, the last time it was this dry?
How does the 2012 drought compare with 1988-89, which was the last time a major drought struck Iowa? At the end of November 2012, the rainfall shortage stood at 9.19 inches below normal statewide. In 1989, the statewide rainfall deficit averaged 9.8 inches at the end of November. But the year before it was even worse, with rainfall averaging 13.07 inches below normal at the end of November 1988.