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Blizzard’s snow dealt blow to dry spell

NWS says moisture is still needed to heal the area drought; big snow dump kicks winter outdoor activities into high gear

December 28, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS, , Messenger News

While snow may be the scourge of commuter and pedestrian alike, it is welcome in thwarting the drought.

The 7 inches of snowfall received Dec. 20 will add needed moisture to the ground.

"It can certainly help," Karl Jungbluth, National Weather Service meteorologist, said. "One of the big things with it is, we don't normally get a lot of our precipitation that melts and soaks into the ground during the wintertime, so we're not generally going to solve our drought problems with winter snows, but it surely can help."

In Des Moines, it was in the top 10 daily snowfalls of all time, Jungbluth said.

"Through the years, there's only been 16 days with a foot or more of snowfall. We came in at 13.8 inches on that one. That was way up there on the list, as far as that goes," he said. "Definitely last week's snow was a bigger snowfall than average. From Fort Dodge southeast it was a bigger swath. You were on the northwest edge of it."

Prior, there hadn't been any snowfall and very little rain.

"I'm guessing the snowfall we had there in one day was above or about average what we would get for a December total, so that's how you can put that storm in perspective," Jungbluth said.

While the inches of snowfall received is impressive, Jungbluth said, it's the amount of water in the snow that will make the difference for the drought.

"It was a very wet snow," he said. "In the south there was some rain with it. So a lot of locations came up with anywhere from three-quarters of an inch to an inch of precipitation from that storm. So that's going to be very helpful. That's a good high number for Iowa to get out of a storm in the wintertime."

While one storm helps, it isn't enough to end the drought.

"We were close to 10 inches behind and we're going to have to gradually get that back," Jungbluth said. "We're not going to be able to do it over the wintertime."

He added, "If we did do that over the winter we would be buried under the snow beyond any precedent people can remember. I don't think we want it all to happen this winter."

Another bonus is that the ground wasn't frozen at all or very much when the snow fell.

"That's really good for getting the moisture into the ground," Jungbluth said. "If we had really hard, frozen top of the ground there and it snowed on top of it, when it did get to melting the ground underneath might not thaw and it would just end up running off. We consider that when we think about springtime flooding. This is a very good case for that, where the moisture we got should be able to go down into the ground."

According to Matt Cosgrove, Webster County Conservation director, the snow has also been a boon for winter activities enthusiasts.

"There's been people out sledding this last weekend," he said. "Now it's pretty much where they've got it worn down. Cross country skiing has been fairly decent. The drifting and stuff made it a little tough, where it's a little sparse in some areas, but they can always find places to go."

It didn't last very long, though.

"It was, and then we got all that wind after it, so it blew a lot of the snow off the sledding hill and didn't make it real useable for a lot of things," Cosgrove said.

Ice fishing is also picking up.

"We're starting to get some ice with the cold temperatures in the evenings," Cosgrove said. "The ice is forming well, so that's starting to pick up."

The weather is not typical, Cosgrove said.

"It depends on the year," he said. "Some years we get snow and ice a little bit earlier than this. This is a little bit later than normal."

The moisture brought by the snowfall will help with the drought, as well, Cosgrove said.

"Any moisture we can get is much appreciated," he said. "Come spring, the more snow we have to melt off, the better off we're going to be."

Seven inches is not enough to reverse the trend, though, Cosgrove said.

"I think we need quite a bit more moisture between now and spring to get things back where they need to be and get us out of this dry spell we're in."



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