With El Niño in the forecast, Illinois may see a milder winter. However, State Climatologist Trent Ford says this “doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t get cold periods. I can guarantee we are going to have periods of pretty intense cold this winter because it is winter in Illinois.”
With a milder winter, there can be some advantages for farmers as it brings the potential for an earlier planting season.
Another characteristic of El Niño includes dryer conditions, which can have advantages and disadvantages. A drier winter can mean soils can warm up faster in the spring, but, Ford adds, it also means the soil is not necessarily restocking soil moisture.
“In general, [Monmouth] hasn’t been able to string together more than maybe two months in a row of wetter than normal conditions. And so what that’s done is that it’s made the deeper layer of soil pretty dry. In fact, at our mesonet station in Monmouth, the 40-inch depth soil moisture is at its lowest or driest point on record which goes back to 2004.”
While a drier winter will not necessarily push western Illinois into a drought, Ford says going into spring with a soil moisture deficit may create drought ratings faster in 2024.