LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)- Precipitation this winter has been slightly above normal. In fact, most areas in the Coulee Region have had about five to ten inches more snow than average. But this will have little impact on the current drought situation.
"We have certainly not had any drought breaking precipitation," said Dan Breeden, WXOW Chief Meteorologist. "Even though we've had a lot of snow as compared to what we had, say last year, it still isn't enough to make a huge dent to bring us out of the drought. It has improved it, but it hasn't made a big effect."
"It's extremely hard to alleviate drought in the winter," said Jeff Boyne, Forecaster at the National Weather Service in La Crosse. "You just don't get enough precipitation to alleviate it."
In an average year, the Coulee Region sees considerably less precipitation in the winter than the summer. This makes even minor precipitation deficits difficult to overcome in the winter.
"In the wintertime we may see three and a half inches [of water]," said Boyne. "In the summer time we see usually somewhere around 12 to 14 inches of water. So it's over three times what you would see in the wintertime."
"During the wintertime, even our worst storms can't produce enough total precipitation to make a big dent in the drought situation," said Breeden. "And that's because cold air, which is what winter is all about, simply can't hold enough moisture as warm air."
Luckily for snow enthusiasts, only a little moisture is needed for a lot of snow.
"You can get a huge amount of snow but it may not have a lot of whole water equivalent with it… Two weeks ago we had a [snow] ratio of 50 to 1 which means if we would have had one inch of water we'd have 50 inches of snow."
But receiving less water isn't the only reason reducing drought is more difficult in the winter. In many cases, precipitation that falls can't effectively infiltrate the soil.
"During the wintertime we have frost. And it makes it harder for the precipitation that does fall," said Breeden. "A lot of that's going to run off instead of soaking down into the ground. So in effect, the amount of precipitation that we do get is lessened in the good that it does."
"We had one case about two weeks ago where we picked up about two inches of rain down in Grant County," said Boyne. "Probably only five to maybe ten percent of it actually entered the soils. The rest went into the rivers and flowed downstream. It did nothing for the drought."
However, there is still value to wintertime precipitation.
"The thing about snowfall in the wintertime is it's great for getting plants germinated in the spring. But as far as alleviating drought, it will make your topsoils wet but down below, where it's been extremely dry, it's hard to get the moisture down there."
Just like all the other precipitation we've seen this season, Thursday's snowstorm will likely help the drought, but only a little.
"Right now we're looking at total precipitation of anywhere from a quarter to a half an inch [water] equivalent, said Breeden. "But that quarter to half an inch isn't going to bring us out of a drought deficit of six or seven inches."
With any luck, there will be more substantial drought relief come spring.
"Looking towards the spring, right now we've got a situation which is similar to what we would see in a La Nina," said Boyne. "That typically sets up a pattern where we might see above normal precipitation in the spring months which may help us alleviate some of this drought. But there's concern as we head into the summer whether we can replenish the subsoils."
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