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Missouri's especially rainy spring is improving drought conditions: 'A really big change to see'

A truck drives along the Discovery Bridge above the Missouri River on Friday, March 8, 2024, at DuSable Park in St. Charles. The Missouri River is currently experience a drought.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
A truck drives along the Discovery Bridge above the Missouri River on Friday, March 8, 2024, at DuSable Park in St. Charles. The Missouri River is currently experience a drought.

This year saw one of the wettest Aprils on record in Missouri, which is welcome during the state’s ongoing drought. And the state is already seeing more rain in May.

Widespread rain in April means much of Missouri is no longer experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Illinois has seen similar improvement in recent weeks.

State officials met to discuss the conditions Monday at Missouri’s Drought Assessment Committee meeting.

Last month was the 15th-wettest April on record in Missouri, said Zack Leasor, Missouri’s state climatologist. In the first four months of the year, the state is an inch and a half above average for precipitation.

“What we saw in April was a statewide average monthly total of six inches of precipitation, which is really quite impressive,” Leasor said.

Currently, almost 70% of Missouri is not experiencing dry conditions, according to the drought monitor. At the start of 2024, just 7% of the state was in the clear.

“We haven't seen a value this low going back to April of 2023,” Leasor said. “That was before our current committee was activated here. And this is really a big change to see.”

Illinois has also seen a dramatic improvement, moving from 46% of the state with no drought to 90%.

The wet April also improved streamflow in Missouri. Last month, most of the state saw normal or above-normal streamflow, said Paul Rydlund, section chief for surface water and modeling for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We're on the right side of this, moving in the right direction in April,” Rydlund said.

Still, he said this doesn’t mean the drought is over. There are factors that could lead to dry conditions again.

“When the rain happens, a lot of people say, ‘drought’s over,’ and I don't know that it is, and I'm sure there'll be more discussion,” Rydlund said.

Evaporation during exceptionally high temperatures could dry out the region as spring turns into summer. After the warmest February on record in Missouri and above-average temperatures in March and April, the state is on track for its sixth-warmest year on record, Leasor said. Climate change, caused by humans increasing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, is intensifying drought and will continue to increase the risk of drought in the U.S., according to the National Climate Assessment.

To stay out of drought in the coming months, Leasor said Missouri will need quite a bit of rain in May and June. This month is typically the wettest month of the year in the state.

Last month, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson extended the state’s drought alert through Sept. 1. If conditions continue to improve, officials can recommend letting the executive order expire.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

I report on agriculture and rural issues for Harvest Public Media and am the Senior Environmental Reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. You can reach me at kgrumke@stlpr.org.
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