Taskforce deactivated after declaring state drought free

By Frank Radosevich II

After a year of extreme drought throughout central and northern Illinois, members from the statewide Drought Response Taskforce officially declared the state drought free in a May 24 report.

The report, crediting increased precipitation during the first half of 2006 as reason for the turnaround, found soil moisture and stream flow levels throughout the state returning to normal.

The groundwater supply is still below average and may take several months of rain to return to pre-drought levels.

The report also stated that the probability of a drought for this summer is normal.

“It’s difficult to say what will happen in the future.” Dennis Winstanley said, chief of the Illinois State Water Survey and a contributor to the report.

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    In response to the news, Gov. Rod Blagojevich deactivated the statewide Drought Response Taskforce.

    The task force, comprised of various experts from the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Water Resource Management, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and other agencies, was convened by the governor in June 2005 to address Illinois’ severe dry conditions and was last activated in 2000.

    According to the June 27 edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor, western and central Illinois are abnormally dry with a small area north of Quincy, Ill., under moderate drought. The rest of the state, however, is considered drought free.

    According to Winstanley, two main factors for the dry conditions in 2005 and 2006 were weaker southerly flows from the Gulf of Mexico, which typically bring moisture to the area, and less than normal disturbance systems from the northwest, low pressure systems with their associated cold fronts.

    Usually, when these two weather conditions collide, the southerly flows are cooled and their moisture condenses into clouds which in turn produce precipitation.

    There was, however, one unexpected benefit from the drought. Less low and high pressure interaction last summer meant fewer tornados and severe thunderstorms.

    “Last year it was very quiet (precipitation wise),” said Jim Angel, state climatologist and contributor to the report. “But on the upside, there was a lot less severe weather.”