WATERLOO --- Drought conditions in Iowa took a fairly dramatic turn for the worse during the past week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Three-quarters of the state is now experiencing at least D3, or extreme, drought. Portions of five counties in western Iowa remain in D4, or exceptional, drought. No part of Iowa improved.

The degradation from D2, severe, to D3, extreme, affected an additional 10 percent of the state.

The primary ingredient necessary to alleviate the situation --- rain --- was once again in short supply across the region.

"Little if any precipitation fell over Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, northern Illinois and portions of northern Missouri during the past seven days," according to the weekly update.

Mike Gannon, a hydrogeologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, described the shortfall in more colorful terms.

"The spigot's been turned off," he said.

Meaning already-dry river basins received virtually no relief. According to the National Weather Service, Waterloo has collected below-average rainfall for five consecutive months. The shortfall as of Sept. 30 is nearly 11.5 inches.

The Wapsipinicon River at Independence this morning was discharging 4.8 cubic feet of water per second, an all-time low for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous low flow was 16 cubic feet per second based on 78 years of records.

For comparison, 4.8 cubic feet of water equals 36 gallons, about the amount needed for a mid-size fish tank. This time of year, the normal range for the Wapsipinicon in Independence would fall between 62 to 520 cubic feet per second, equal to 465 to 3,900 gallons.

The Cedar River in Charles City was at an all-time low for the date as well. The river was pumping just 118 cubic feet of water per second. The record is 120 cubic feet per second and normal range is 193 to 881.

Others rivers in Northeast Iowa --- the Turkey, Shell Rock, Iowa, Little Cedar and Upper Iowa --- this morning were all also discharging well below normal ranges.

The Cedar in Waterloo was at 374 cubic feet per second, not a record but well outside its norm of 809 to 2,710.

Fire hazard

The weather service previously issued a statement warning about the potential for fires heading into harvest. So far, that's not been a large issue in Bremer County, according to Kip Ladage, coordinator of the Bremer County Emergency Management Agency.

"Which I wasn't sure was going to be the case," Ladage said.

Bremer County lifted its ban on open burning Aug. 14, and Ladage said officials have had no discussions about imposing another one.

"We don't like to put that burn ban on because it's a considerable inconvenience for a lot of people," he said.

Ladage can also appreciate the ongoing drought's effects on the state's rivers. As an avid kayaker and outdoor photographer, he spends more time outdoors than most.

"When I paddle down these rivers, I'm seeing these river levels lower than I've ever seen them before," he said.

Ladage is concerned, heading into winter, what that might mean for aquatic wildlife.

"If we don't have much water now and it starts to freeze, are we going to see big fish kills? I'm guessing yes," he said. "There's no place for the stuff to go."

Frozen ground also prevents rain from absorbing, according to Gannon.

"Once you have frost, you get no recharge until spring. Any precipitation that falls, because frost is in the ground, it can't make it into the aquifers," Gannon said.

Dry soil also allows frost to penetrate more deeply. That, in turn, could jeopardize underground water lines, Gannon said.

October in Waterloo is typically a drier month, according to the National Weather Service. Based on information collected since 1895, normal rainfall for the month averages just 2.49 inches.

Potential for significant precipitation does exist. The wettest October on record, in fact, happened just three years ago. According to the weather service, Waterloo picked up 5.86 inches in 2009.

Though slight, snow is also a possibility in October. The norm for the month in Waterloo is .1 inches, however.

A light shower did settle the dust Thursday but arrived after researchers compiled information for the weekly update. The amount, however, will do little to change the state's overall condition.

Officially, .01 inches fell Thursday in Waterloo.


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