Midwest Climate Hub: Early Winter Outlook

Guest post by Dr. Dennis Todey | USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director

Cold, dry conditions are expected to continue through February. The current weather models indicate that the cold will persist, with some warming periods occurring.  Normal levels of precipitation in January and February typically have little impact on drought conditions for the upcoming spring, but we will continue to watch closely and inform partners if conditions do not improve by spring. Monitoring frosts depths will be important for heading off issues for water supplies for both livestock and homes.

Current conditions

Temperature conditions in late December flipped from warmer than average in early December to much colder than average late in the month across the Midwest and most of the Northern Plains.  The last 30 days have now been below average for Iowa and much of the Midwest and Northern Plains.

Precipitation has been limited across most of the Midwest and Northern Plains with less than 25% of average precipitation across large chunks of the Midwest despite some recent snows.   Most of the Midwest and Northern Plains are now snow-covered.

jan todey precip


The extreme cold has impacted livestock across the region with the sharp turn to colder temperatures.  Possible damage may have occurred to perennials/fruit trees because of the extreme cold.  Cold temperatures set in across much of the Upper Midwest before snow covered the soil.  Without that insulating effect, soils were able to freeze more readily.  Most soils throughout the region were also fairly dry, allowing the soil to freeze at depth more easily.  With the consistent extreme cold and colder temperatures likely into January, frost depths will continue to penetrate deeper, causing potential problems for water supplies for livestock and potentially homes if the severe cold continues.

Monitoring frost depths would be a good idea.  NOAA provides a regional frost depth map.

The main current dryness impacts are in Missouri/Illinois/Iowa where the longer term dryness (in some places since last year) has left farm ponds low, limiting water for cattle and reduced feed availability in places.


The updated January outlooks from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicate similar conditions for the rest of the month and winter.  The jet stream pattern will continue to bring additional cold to much of the Northern Plains and Midwest with some intervening warmer periods.

Livestock will continue to experience colder conditions and need additional management.  Mentioned soil frost depths should also be monitored.

Drought conditions are unlikely to change much largely because precipitation is limited even in a more normal January.  Dry conditions do not worsen conditions much in winter.  Only extremely wet conditions can improve in the winter.  That is very unlikely at this point.  Dryness improvement will likely not occur until spring.