PONTIAC – We can likely expect a wet spring, but nothing like 2019. That was the message from State Climatologist Dr. Trent Ford, who spoke Thursday during the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual meeting.
The outlook for March through May shows elevated chances of above normal precipitation. This is based on long-term trends which indicate we are getting 0.2 inches wetter in each decade.
“The last several springs have predominantly been wetter than normal,” explained Ford. “Chances are this year will as well.”
Ford feels climate forecasts are less certain than immediate forecasts but still not bad. At this point in the year, only a couple of watersheds are considered in flood stage in Illinois.
“We are looking a lot better than we were last year hydrologically.”
Almost every county in the state is experiencing the effects of climate change, according to Ford. That includes warmer winters and springs along with wetter springs. We are also seeing significant trends in precipitation intensity.
“We are seeing larger totals in a short amount of time,” added Ford.
Intense wetness will likely continue into the future as the number of droughts and drought duration has dropped.
A dominate driver of our weather is the El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific which has been in a neutral phase. That limits its predictability. There are elevated chances for below-normal temperatures for the first half of February and the month could see below-normal precipitation.
All it took was one weather system in early January to take the state from below-normal precipitation to a two to six inch surplus. This gave us an idea how we are looking long-term hydrologically. Four inch bare soil temperatures have finally dropped below freezing but had been warmer than usual until then.
“It tends to lock in water a little better and does increase risk of flooding in early spring,” Ford explained.
Ford referred to 2019 as a truly unique year for weather – something he feels is not a long-term trend but rather a “function of chaos” with atmospheric patterns. Even those who don’t normally experience spring flooding were flooded in 2019.
“Everybody was dealing with this,” Ford noted.
From the wet spring and dry summer to unusual Halloween snow, 2019’s weather was an incredible event we likely won’t see again, at least in that magnitude.
Ford is originally from Roanoke and went to Illinois State University. He served as a professor at Southern Illinois University before accepting the State Climatologist position in Illinois. His job is to inform, provide data and make Illinois more resilient to climate impacts.
“Essentially, I am the spokesperson for climate around the state,” Ford told the crowd.