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State Climate Summaries


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Figure 1

Observed and Projected Temperature Change


Figure 1: Observed and projected changes (compared to the 1901-1960 average) in near-surface air temperature for Iowa. Observed data are for 1900-2014. Projected changes for 2006-2100 are from global climate models for two possible futures: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase (higher emissions) and another in which greenhouse gas emissions increase at a slower rate (lower emissions). Temperatures in Iowa (orange line) have risen about 0.5°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Shading indicates the range of annual temperatures from the set of models. Observed temperatures are generally within the envelope of model simulations of the historical period (gray shading). Historically unprecedented warming is projected during the 21st century. Less warming is expected under a lower emissions future (the coldest years being about as warm as the hottest year in the historical record; green shading) and more warming under a higher emissions future (the hottest years being about 11°F warmer than the hottest year in the historical record; red shading)Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Iowa’s location in the interior of North America and the lack of mountains to the north or south exposes the state to incursions of bitterly cold air masses from the Arctic, as well as warm and humid air masses from the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, its climate is characterized by large ranges in temperature with cold winters and warm, humid summers.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, temperatures in Iowa have risen approximately 1°F (Figure 1). Temperatures in the 2000s have been higher than any other historical period with the exception of the 1930s “Dust Bowl” era. The warming is due to increases in nighttime minimum temperatures while daytime maximum temperatures have not changed. Increases in humidity may be one cause of this asymmetric warming between night and day. The year 2012 was the hottest on record with an average annual temperature of 52.1°F, 4.6°F above the long-term average. This warming has been concentrated in the winter and spring while summers have not warmed substantially in the state, a feature characteristic of much of the Midwest (Figure 2a). This is reflected in a below average occurrence of very hot days (maximum temperature above 95°F) (Figure 2b) and no overall trend in warm nights (minimum temperature above 70°F) (Figure 2c). The winter warming trend is reflected in a below average number of very cold nights (minimum temperature below 0°F) over the past two decades (Figure 2d).

Figure 2

Figure 2a


Observed Summer Temperature


Figure 2b


Observed Number of Very Hot Days


Figure 2c


Observed Number of Warm Nights


Figure 2d


Observed Number of Very Cold Nights


Figure 2: The observed (a) average summer temperature, (b) number of very hot days (annual number of days with maximum temperature above 95°F), (c) number of warm nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature above 70°F), and (d) number of very cold nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature below 0°F), averaged over 5-year periods. The values in Figure 2a are from NCEI’s version 2 climate division dataset. The values in Figures 2b, 2c, and 2d are averages from 44 long-term reporting stations. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. During the most recent 5-year period, summer temperatures and the number of very warm nights have been slightly above average, while the number of very hot days has been below average. Due to extreme drought and poor land management practices, the summers of the 1930s remain the warmest on record. The number of very cold nights has been below the long-term average since 1990, except for near average numbers in the most recent 5-year period. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Precipitation varies widely across Iowa, with the southeastern portion of the state receiving around 38 inches annually compared to only 26 inches in the northwest. Much of Iowa’s precipitation falls during the summer months, averaging more than 14 inches in the central part of the state. Recent years have seen above average precipitation in the spring which can make it difficult for farmers to plant crops (Figure 3). Summer and annual precipitation have also been above average (Figures 3 and 4), which has been beneficial for crop production but has also increased flooding. April and June have been particularly wet in recent years, averaging more than 40% above average since 2008. Statewide annual precipitation has ranged from a low of 20.21 inches in 1910 to a high of 47.88 inches in 1993. Snowfall also varies across the state, ranging from 40 inches in the northeast to about 20 inches in the southeast. For most of the state, more than 40% of the annual precipitation occurs on the 10 wettest days of the year, a percentage which rises to over 48% in the west. The frequency of extreme precipitation events has increased, with the highest number of 2-inch rain events occurring during the last decade (Figure 5).

Figure 3

Figure 3a


Observed Spring Precipitation


Figure 3b


Observed Summer Precipitation


Figure 3: The observed spring and summer precipitation across Iowa for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are from NCEI’s version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. Seasonal precipitation varies widely. Since 1990, Iowa has experienced wet springs, which can make it difficult for farmers to plant crops but also wet summers which has been beneficial. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.


Observed Annual Precipitation

Observed Annual Precipitation

Figure 4: The observed annual precipitation across Iowa for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are from NCEI’s version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. Over the past decade, Iowa has experienced annual precipitation several inches above the long-term average. The wettest 5-year period was 2006–2010, while the driest was 1952–1956. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.


Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Observed Number of Extreme Precipitation Events

Figure 5: The observed number of days with extreme precipitation events (annual number of days with precipitation above 2 inches) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from thirty-nine long-term reporting stations. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. A typical station experiences 1–2 days annually with 2 inches or more of precipitation. In recent years, Iowa has experienced the largest number of such events in the historical record. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Agriculture is a vital component of Iowa’s economy, and the state is particularly vulnerable to extreme precipitation conditions. Both flooding and droughts have resulted in billions of dollars in losses in recent years. Following abnormally dry conditions in 2011, Iowa experienced severe drought conditions in 2012. Rainfall totals for the critical growth months of July and August were several inches below average (average statewide July-August rainfall is 7.74 inches for 1895–2014) with observed summer rainfall totaling 6.42 inches, 4.05 inches, and 3.23 inches in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively. Below normal July-August rainfall during this three-year period was unlike any other three-year period on record dating back to 1893, superseding the dry period of the Dust Bowl years. By the end of September 2012, much of the state was in extreme drought, with portions in the northwest experiencing exceptional drought conditions extending into 2013.

Thousands of miles of rivers flow through Iowa and the state is bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers to the west. With many of these waterways located alongside cities and farmland, flooding is a severe hazard to the state. For the period of 1955–1997, Iowa was ranked first in state losses due to flooding. During the first two weeks of June 2008, heavy rainfall on soil already saturated from unusually wet conditions caused record flooding along multiple rivers in the state. Multiple long-term stations reported more than 10 inches of rain during the two-week period, and levels on the Cedar River exceeded the previous record by more than 11 feet. Of the state’s 99 counties, 83 were declared disaster areas and damages were estimated at almost $10 billion. Snowmelt, as well as ice jams, can also cause flooding. In June 2011, runoff from a record winter snowpack in the Rocky Mountains along with heavy rains caused major flooding along the entire length of the Missouri River. The region around Hamburg was particularly hard hit, where levee failures forced evacuation of the town and flooding of the farmland caused extensive agricultural losses.

Iowa experiences damaging storms during all seasons. During the winter months, snowstorms and ice storms are a frequent hazard. Over December 8–9, 2009, a strong storm produced heavy snowfall across the state, with multiple long-term stations reporting more than 15 inches of snow. Wind gusts over 50 mph produced large snow drifts and caused widespread whiteout conditions. The blizzard conditions were compounded by bitter cold on December 9, with large portions of the state experiencing temperatures below 10°F and wind chills below 0°F. Convective storms are common in the warmer months, including thunderstorms (capable of producing hail and tornadoes), and flood-producing rainstorms. On May 25, 2008, an EF-5 tornado killed 8 people and destroyed nearly 200 homes in Parkersburg. This was the strongest tornado to hit the state since June 13, 1976.

Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century. (Figure 1). Even under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions, average annual temperatures are projected to most likely exceed historical record levels by the middle of the 21st century. However, there is a large range of temperature increases under both pathways and under the lower pathway a few projections are only slightly warmer than historical records. Intense heat waves can occur in Iowa and these are often accompanied by high humidity. Heat waves are projected to become more intense and impacts on human health could be significant. However, cold waves are projected to be less intense.

Precipitation is projected to increase in Iowa, with the largest increases expected in winter and spring (Figure 6). In addition, extreme precipitation is projected to increase, potentially increasing the frequency and intensity of floods. Springtime flooding in particular could pose a threat to Iowa’s important agricultural economy by delaying planting and resulting in loss of yield.

The intensity of future droughts is projected to increase. Even if precipitation increases in the future, increases in temperature will increase the rate of loss of soil moisture. Thus, the periodic summer droughts, a natural part of Iowa’s climate, are likely to be more intense in the future.


Projected Change in Spring Precipitation

Projected Change in Spring Precipitation

Figure 6: Projected change in spring precipitation (%) for the middle of the 21st century compared to the late 20th century under a higher emissions pathway. Hatching represents areas where the majority of climate models indicate a statistically significant change. Iowa is part of a large area of projected increases in the Northeast and Midwest. Source: CICS-NC, NOAA NCEI, and NEMAC.

Lead Authors:
Rebekah Frankson, Kenneth E. Kunkel
Contributing Authors:
Sarah Champion and Jennifer Runkle
Recommended Citation:
Frankson, R., K. Kunkel, S. Champion, and J. Runkle, 2017: Iowa State Climate Summary. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 149-IA, 4 pp.


  1. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate of Iowa, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  2. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, published October 2016, retrieved on October 18, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at]
  3. USDA, cited 2016: Maps and Data, United States Drought Monitor United States Department of Agriculture. [Available online at]
  4. Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, S.D. Hilberg, M.S. Timlin, L. Stoecker, N.E. Westcott, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 3. Climate of the Midwest U.S., NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-3, 95 pp. [Available online at]
  5. Changnon, S. A., K. E. Kunkel, and K. Andsager, 2001: Causes for record high flood losses in the central United States. Water International, 26, 223-230.
  6. NOAA, 2008: Central Iowa floods of 2008, Late May through mid June, 49pp, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  7. Zogg, J., 2014: The top five Iowa Floods, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service. [Available online at]
  8. USGS, cited 2016: Missouri river flooding near Hamburg, Iowa, United States Geological Survey. [Available online at]
  9. Midwestern Regional Climate Center, cited 2016: Ice storms, Living with Weather. [Available online at]
  10. NOAA, 2009: The winter storms and inclement weather of December 2009: A central Iowa Perspective, Central Region Headquarters, 17pp, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  11. NOAA, 2008: EF5 tornado in Parkersburg and New Hartford, Iowa, May 25, 2008, Service Assessment, 50pp, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at]
  12. Brown, P.J. and A.T. DeGaetano, 2013: Trends in U.S. surface humidity, 1930–2010. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 52, 147–163,