No, that “whiff” sound you hear isn’t a group of kids playing baseball at the nearby ball field — it’s the sound of my swing and miss on a forecast for a warm and wet April in Champaign-Urbana. Let’s take a look at the local weather story over the last 30 or so days and talk about where we may be headed in the month of May.
Okay, calling it a total whiff might be a little dramatic. Looking at temperatures for the month of April in Champaign-Urbana, something curious emerges. The average mean temperature for C-U in April 2023 was 53 degrees, one degree above the average of 52. Here’s the interesting part. The average April high temperature was nearly three degrees warmer than average, while the average April low temperature was one and a half degrees colder than average. That’s actually quite indicative of the background weather pattern that has been driving the recent dry weather conditions.
Since about the second week of April, we’ve seen a rather persistent area of low pressure to our north, which has helped to funnel in cooler, drier air from Canada. You probably recall a lot of days in recent weeks with chilly mornings that require a few layers, followed by a sunny, warm afternoon that has you quickly shedding those morning layers. Sounds like spring, right? Shots of colder air following such an early, warm start to the spring growing season had plants and gardeners alike dealing with a little bit of weather whiplash. A late freeze event occurred with temperatures dipping as low as 27 degrees on the morning of April 24th. The recent dry stretch has been further frustrating gardeners, farmers, and plants. In early April it appeared likely that we’d ease back into an active, stormy weather pattern across Central Illinois after a brief reprieve mid-month. That simply has not happened, and the soil is beginning to dry up.
Total precipitation for the month of April in Champaign-Urbana finished at 1.81”, well below the monthly average of 3.94”. April showers have bypassed the region and have left us with May dust storms.
So, what awaits? Will the weather once again turn warm and stormy across Central Illinois? In the near-term, yes! The coming weekend into early next week will feature the chance for at least scattered shower and thunderstorm activity across much of Central Illinois. Unfortunately, the scattered nature means that not everyone will see rainfall, so it’s certainly possible we could begin to see at least localized areas of drought begin to emerge mid-month. Temperatures turn warmer in the coming week as well, with afternoon high temperatures climbing into the middle 80s. The outlook for late May has remained a big mystery, which is not all that common for this time of year. How the jet stream will behave as we transition from spring into summer across North America often involves high uncertainty, and day to day frustrations as you begin to develop a weather story, only to have that story change, much like we saw with the vanishing warm and stormy finish to April.
There’s long been indication that we will eventually revert back to a wetter, stormier pattern across central Illinois but I think it will take some time to get there. I think the month of May will offer highly variable precipitation across Central Illinois with thunderstorm clusters producing locally heavy rainfall while others miss out.
I hate to go middle of the road, but I think by the end of the month we’re looking back at a May that finishes a little warmer than average with precipitation near or a little below average. I’ve got higher confidence on temperatures being on the warm side overall than I do anything specific with regard to precipitation for now.
Andrew operates Chambana Weather, where he publishes daily weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities. He also serves as Senior Meteorologist with Nutrien Ag Solutions at Research Park, focused on domestic and international weather and its impact on agriculture.