, ,

Rainfall leads to improvement in Wisconsin drought conditions

May rainfall has allowed most of the state to recover from drought after an unseasonably warm winter

Green crops are backdropped by dark clouds in the sky.
Dark clouds loom over a field as rain approaches Monday, June in Waukesha County, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Rainy weather has pushed nearly all of Wisconsin out of drought conditions for the first time in a year.  

Less than 1 percent of the state is considered to be experiencing drought, according to the latest map from the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

It’s made for a quick end to a long period of drought, state climatologist Steve Vavrus said. 

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“Drought has virtually disappeared from Wisconsin finally, after 12 solid months,” he said. 

A small patch of moderate drought remains in Iron and Ashland counties along Lake Superior, and much of the surrounding area in northern Wisconsin is classified as “abnormally dry.” In total, just under 10 percent of the state is classified as experiencing some level of drought.

“This is a huge improvement even over where we were earlier in the spring,” Vavrus said.

It’s the lowest amount of drought in Wisconsin since last May.  

“So it’s been exactly one year,” he said. “And that’s when we were just skyrocketing toward a widespread drought that continued all summer long.” 

Last summer, parts of Douglas and Bayfield counties in far northern Wisconsin were rated as being in an exceptional drought. It was the first time any part of the state was labeled with the most extreme category since the Drought Monitor started in 2000. 

As of last week, parts of Marquette and Sauk counties were also in moderate drought, U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Marcia Cronce said. 

“In the last week, the area has seen 2 to even 4 inches of rain,” Cronce said. “A lot of the state saw 5 to 7 inches of rain just in May. So we’ve received this beneficial rainfall that has helped improve our drought conditions over the past couple of weeks, but specifically we improved to a different drought category this week.” 

Conditions have improved throughout the Midwest 

While Wisconsin’s improvement has been dramatic, much of the region had had an even greater swing, Vavrus said. Iowa is drought free for the first time in four years, and Missouri is for the first time in two years. 

“Less than 1 percent of the Midwest is experiencing drought right now. Whereas we were at about 40 percent of the region in drought, even as recently as March 19,” Vavrus said. 

“Region-wide, this is the least amount of drought in terms of extent and intensity in the Midwest since May of 2020,” he said. “And this is the best we’ve been in terms of moisture conditions.” 

Still, conditions can change quickly. Last year, there was record rainfall between January and April, only to be in drought by May, Vavrus said. 

“Even though it seems like the drought’s been going on forever here, it’s really just been one year long, which is shorter than some of the really bad droughts we’ve had in our state’s history,” he said. 

A prolonged drought in 2021 lasted for more than a year. 

“And the drought in 2012 was exceptionally intense, especially in (southern Wisconsin). But we did have some recovery in 2013, and then the (2010s) were the wettest decade on record in Wisconsin,” Vavrus said. 

Droughts can be difficult to predict, but at this point there is no indication WIsconsin will flip back into a drought, Vavrus said. 

Cronce was more circumspect on the forecast. 

“There’s not a clear signal if we’re going to be wetter or drier than normal,” she said.