Winter storms have dropped more than 15 inches of snow on parts of the Midwest and East in recent weeks.

Climatologists say it would take at least 8 feet of snow – and likely far more – to return the soil to its pre-drought condition in time for spring planting. A foot of snow is roughly equal to an inch of water, depending on density.

Many areas are begging for moisture after a summer that caused water levels to fall to near-record lows on lakes Michigan and Huron. The Mississippi River has declined so much that barge traffic south of St. Louis could soon come to a halt.

Scores of cities that have already enacted water restrictions are thinking about what they will do in 2013 if heavy snows and spring rains don't materialize.

For a while, it seemed no snow would come. Midwestern cities including Chicago, Milwaukee and Des Moines, Iowa, had their latest first snows on record. How much would it take to make things right?

"An amount nobody would wish on their worst enemy,'' said David Pearson, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Omaha, Nebraska.

"It's so out of this world it wouldn't make much scientific sense (to guess). It would take a record-breaking snowfall for the season to get us back on track.''

The 150 inches – more than 12 feet – isn't likely to materialize. That would be about four times the average winter snowfall in Chicago, a city famous for its storms.

Even if a massive storm developed, the temperature would have to be right for farmers to benefit. If snow melts on frozen ground, the water will run off into rivers and streams, instead of being absorbed into the soil.

Western states rely on snow and ice that accumulate in the mountains during the winter for as much as 80 percent of their freshwater for the year, according to the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The melting snowpack replenishes streams, rivers and reservoirs and provides water for cities and crops.

Still, climatologists caution that it's too early in the winter to give up hope.

"We could be singing a different tune this winter if a storm system cooperates,'' said Dave Robinson, a Rutgers University geography professor who's also the New Jersey state climatologist. "Sometimes you get what you wish for.''  FG


—AP Newsfinder