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Wet planting delays possible this year, despite lack of snowfall

DES MOINES, Iowa – This winter hasn’t seen much snowfall, but in some parts of Iowa, the soil was wet when it froze, and that could mean planting delays this spring.

Except for two snowstorms last month, precipitation this winter has been minimal across the state. State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says it’s been a stark contrast to last winter, which was punctuated by frequent snowfall. One major difference is that the current winter began with a significant amount of soil moisture, Hillaker says. That’s a very different story from the dry beginnings of last winter.

The soil moisture means freezing will be less of an issue this year than last, because wet soil is harder to freeze, but Hillaker adds it may cause some issues once planting time rolls around.

In the central third of the state and in its southwest corner, conditions were extremely wet from August to late September last year. “It may not seem that way because everything’s frozen,” says Hillaker, “but it wouldn’t take a whole lot of rain to cause some planting delays in that part of the state.”

However there is a slight silver lining; the frost depth this year is substantially more shallow, which is good news for underground pipes across the state.

Hillaker estimates the frost depth at “six inches to maybe a foot and a half deep right now, compared to last winter, which was two, three, four times that much.” He adds it’s “probably not going to cause much of an issue and should go out of the soil relatively quickly once spring finally gets here, whenever that might be.”

Hillaker says this winter has been notably cold, with February ranking 9th coldest on record, though he expects temperatures to normalize later this week.

To hear more about the winter from State Climatologist Harry Hillker, click the audio player above this story.

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