A couple of good rainfalls may not be enough to combat the Wisconsin drought

Wisconsin is in an agricultural drought which could become a hydrological drought
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wisconsin has been abnormally hot and dry in some areas, with little rain, for several months now. The state is classified as being in a short-term drought right now. It could change, but we would need multiple weeks of good rainfall to get out of the drought.

“We’re seeing in Wisconsin that the middle section is doing okay, and a lot of that is because it’s getting precipitation. But up in the North, precipitation isn’t as consistent, and we’ve had some abnormally warm conditions up in the North,” said Lindsay Johnson, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

According to the Wisconsin State Drought Map, the middle part is doing better than some parts of the North and South. This is because of increased stream flows and soil moisture improving. Those two factors, including rain, affect droughts. It’s also what Johnson looked at for Wisconsin’s drought map this week. Even though those levels are getting better, they’re still quite low.

“If you get a good rain-fall, that can help the surface, but you’re probably going to have pretty dry soils going down, and that takes a longer time to recover,” said Johnson.

States can have many different types of droughts. Wisconsin, for example, could have two or three. Johnson says that right now the state is currently in an agricultural drought, which refers to the impacts it has on rainfall, soil, groundwater, or reservoir levels. If these conditions continue, we could be moving toward a hydrologic drought.

“Hydrological drought is referring to more of what happened the season before or after. For instance, did we have a wet winter and we’re going into spring, or vice versa,” said WSAW NewsChannel 7′s Meteorologist Chad Franzen.

The question of when a place is out of a drought is tough to answer. The logical answer may be when it rains enough. Even though that does play a part, too much rain after long periods of dryness can also cause floods.

“Unlike other hazards, like a hurricane, where you see it coming, it comes, and it’s gone. So you have a definite end. There’s no definition for when a drought is over,” said Johnson.

If conditions get better, Johnson stated, “then we’re more confident that, okay, the drought is alleviating.”

The Wisconsin DNR recently launched a Drought Resource webpage where they provide information related to drought conditions.