Will an El Niño End the Midwest’s Drought?

All those early spring rains are but a fond memory. The Midwest is in an extreme drought with a drier-than-normal April and one of the driest Mays in history. Spring is usually the wettest time of the year, so the lack of rain is even more problematic for plantings.

There are signs that the Midwest is transitioning out of a La Niña and into an El Niño weather pattern. El Niños tend to bring a cooler, wetter summer. The most recent summers we saw El Niño develop were 2009 (moderate), 2015 (strong) and 2019 (weak). But no one knows how much moisture this one will bring. Or if temps will be below or above average.

Predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) go both ways. We have equal chances of seeing a cool or warm summer. But as things stand now, be ready for a hot, dry one.

Forrest Keeling underscores the responsibility for regular watering of plantings. Since hotter temps and wind extract more moisture from soil, your trees and plantings can dry out faster. Even plants that survive can weaken from the stress and die later. Regular watering is key for plant survival. Especially new plantings or those in their first or second seasons.

Look to the leaves for signs of drought stress in trees. These include wilting or yellowing leaves, leaf scorch, defoliation. Also watch for bark cracks.

You can check if your trees are getting enough water with a soil sample. Dig down outside the root ball about 10”. Is the soil easy to roll into a ball? Perfect. If the soil is hard and dry, you need to water. If it’s gummy and watery, wait a week and check again.

To track precipitation, drought, and temperature in your area, see drought.gov/current-conditions.