Randy Miles, associate professor of soil science at the University of Missouri, said a continuous pattern of dry weather during the past 2½ to three years caused conditions that might make for another hard season for summer crops.
"We don't have a fully recharged soil profile," Miles said. "The surface soil is moist, but the subsoil is, well, pretty dry."
The current conditions are in part fallout from a rough 2012.
Mark Fuchs, hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said besides some rain in April 2012, that year was almost completely dry, and the summer was extra hot.
"That quickly dried out the top soil and translated into moisture shortages over time below that as well," Fuchs said. "The only thing that saved us that year was a relatively cool August."
Fuchs said other climatologists refer to what happened that year as a "flash drought."
The next year was a little better for some parts of the state, such as south-central and southwest Missouri, which received significant rainfall and, in some parts, major flash flooding during the summer. Still, there were some parts of the state that Fuchs said "never fully recovered" from 2012, primarily the area north of the Missouri River.
There hasn't been a lot of moisture since last summer, either, Fuchs said. The fall was fairly dry, and the winter was below average in precipitation.
"Winter is the time of year we hope to get a significant recharge, with some more in the spring," he said, adding that although it was a cold winter, it was still considered a dry one. "So far, though, spring has not kicked in. March rainfall totals have been low through most of the state. If we don't get significant, or hopefully above-average, rainfall in April and May, we could be setting ourselves up for a drought-ridden summer."
April and May are indicator months of what kind of year to expect, Fuchs said.
Miles has seen the lack of precipitation at the Sanborn Field weather station, a research area Miles directs under the MU College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Good, timely rains" above what Missouri normally gets would help to make up the deficit, but Miles said that it takes more than an overnight shower to move the moisture down to the subsoil.
Without more rain, there is the possibility of decreased yields for farmers.
Also, he said many local ponds, springs and even the Missouri River will be — and already are — lower than usual.
(By Ashely Jost. This article was published in the Friday, March 28, 2014 edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline "Soil needs a water recharge; Ground is dry under surface.")