"Most agricultural soils hold about 2 inches of water available to crops per foot of soil," Taylor said. "With most of the moisture gone that means it will take 16 inches of water soaking into the soil and in some places 18 to fully replenish it."
A Long Shot
Jim Angel, state climatologist in Illinois, said the state's conditions had improved slightly but have a long way to go before spring. Some areas of Illinois would need up to 21 inches of precipitation to catch up.
"The 2012 drought is not over yet. There are several areas of the state that are 8 to 12 inches below normal in rainfall, some places even more. You don't have to totally erase the deficits to be out of the drought but you have to come pretty close," Angel said. "In wintertime it's tough because we don't get that much precipitation. It's a long shot at this point."
Illinois saw its second hottest year on record in 2012, averaging 55.5 degrees, or 3.3 degrees above normal, and the 10th driest. The state's subsoil moisture is still rated 67 percent short to very short, according to the Illinois crop update issued this week.
Nebraska, the third largest corn producing state, has 77 percent of the state remaining in exceptional drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor.
"The concern is we just went through a 14-15 month stretch of incredibly dry weather in most locations in the state, excluding the southeast corner. For the vast majority of locations outside that area we were looking at 40 to 50 percent of annual precipitation that fell in 2012, and that does not include the exceptionally dry fall of 2011," said Al Dutcher, state climatologist for Nebraska.
To eliminate the soil moisture deficits over the next three months, Dutcher said central Nebraska needs 300 percent of normal precipitation while northeast and western Nebraska need 500 to 700 percent of normal precipitation this winter.
"One key issue for us since we are not getting a massive amount of moisture is to keep a protective snow layer across the northern and central Plains so we don't break dormancy as early as it did last year," Dutcher said. "Last year we were putting leaves on trees in early March, typically that doesn't happen until early April. That additional month of water use compounded the problem with the drought as we got into mid-summer."
Prayers for El Nino?
Scientists are hoping they will have a better indication by early February of the seasonal weather pattern, which depends on whether conditions turn to an El Nino or La Nina - global weather atmospheric anomalies based on the warming or cooling of an area of the southern Pacific Ocean that can dictate precipitation patterns in North America.