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Article posted: 3/5/2013 5:01 AM

Snowfall good news for thirsty soil

By Josh Stockinger

It might be a real pain in the commute -- but today's anticipated snowfall could be good news for thirsty suburban soil, experts say.

Forecasters are predicting up to 10 inches, which should continue to ease droughtlike conditions lingering from a scorching summer and an unusually dry 2012.

"Anything we get is a positive," meteorologist Richard Castro of the National Weather Service in Romeoville said Monday.

The impact of the snow will depend largely on how quickly it melts and whether the soil below has thawed enough to take on water, experts said.

"Even if you do get that precipitation and it runs off, you're at least going to help the hydrology of the region," said climatologist Brian Fuchs of the U.S. Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska.

Fuchs said 82 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions in the fall, but that figure has since dwindled to about 17 percent.

Northern Illinois is still fighting precipitation deficits, but "things are looking up and much better than they did when we went into cold season," Castro said.

Still, he added, "We're not out of the woods."

According to Fuchs, snowfall of 12 to 15 inches typically leaves behind about a one-inch rainfall, though it also depends on the snow.

A slow melt with little evaporation can help thaw soil and get that water deeper into the ground, State Climatologist Jim Angel said.

"It's not like getting a 2-inch rainstorm in the middle of July, but the upside is, this time of year we don't get much evaporation, so pretty much whatever falls and melts will stay in place for a while," Angel said. "It's not going to be as effective as rain over thawed-out soil, but it doesn't mean it's not welcome."

Temperatures are expected to rise to the upper 30s by Thursday and continue to climb through the upper 40s by Monday, meteorologist Castro said.

He said meteorologists are keeping an eye on snowfall in the Plains states, which remains in a long-term drought and can lead to a pattern that creates extreme heat and dryness here.

"Even though we've improved, we would like to see the Plains continue to see more moisture," Castro said "because that can easily be a type of pattern that gets into our area in the summertime."

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