Below normal temperatures are expected to persist

Mar 28, 2014

While farmers across the Midwest are getting geared up for spring planting, Mother Nature seems to be up to her typical bi-polar weather patterns, with excessive moisture in some areas, and a return of the Dust Bowl in others. According to the calendar, spring officially started Mar. 20, but Old Man Winter is hanging on in the upper Midwest states, creating delays in planting in many areas and some concern over what lies ahead.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Spring Outlook, rivers in half of the continental United States are at minor or moderate risk of exceeding flood levels this spring with the highest threat in the southern Great Lakes region due to above-average snowpack and a deep layer of frozen ground.

Winter’s hold on the upper Midwest with above-average snowpack, frozen ground and thick ice coverage on streams and rivers will delay spring flooding into April.

“This year’s spring flood potential is widespread and includes rivers in highly populated areas putting millions of Americans at risk,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., Director, NOAA’s National

Weather Service.

Spring flood risk

National Weather Service hydrologists predict moderate flooding in parts of southern Wisconsin, southern Michigan and portions of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa as a result of the current snowpack and the deep layer of frozen ground coupled with expected seasonal temperatures and rainfall. At risk are the Mississippi River and the Illinois River, as well as many smaller rivers in these regions. Small streams and rivers in the lower Missouri basin in Missouri and eastern Kansas have already experienced minor flooding this year and the threat of moderate flooding will persist through the spring.

There is a risk of moderate flooding along the Red River of the North between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, and along the Souris River below Minot, ND. River ice, snowpack and significant frozen ground are factors in the flood risk for this area, according to NO- AA.

Additionally, there is a risk of moderate flooding for western South Dakota because of current saturated soils.

Minor flooding is likely in the northern Rockies, parts of the Midwest, and the Great Lakes region. Minor flooding is also possible in the Northeast, the lower Mississippi River basin, and across the entire Southeast up to Virginia, including east Texas, and parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and the Florida Panhandle. In these areas, spring flood risk is highly dependent on rainfall.

Drought outlook

Significant and widespread drought conditions continue in California, which experienced its warmest and third driest winter on record. Drought is expected to persist or intensify in California, Nevada, most of interior Oregon and Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, southeast Colorado, western Oklahoma, and most of west Texas because of below-average rain or snow this winter and the onset of the dry season in April, NOAA reported.

Drought improvement is likely in Washington, southeast Idaho, extreme northern and coastal Oregon, western and central sections of Nebraska and Kansas, central Oklahoma, and the Midwest. Drought is not expected east of the Mississippi River during the next three months.

Temperature and precipitation outlook Below-normal temperatures this spring are favored for an area from Montana eastward across the northern Plains to the Great Lakes region, while warmerthan-normal temperatures are most likely for western sections of Washington and Oregon, California, the desert Southwest, the southern Plains, the Southeast and all of Alaska.

For precipitation, odds favor drier than normal conditions for the Alaska panhandle, western Washington and Oregon, California and parts of Nevada and Arizona. Hawaii is favored to be both warmer and wetter than normal this spring.

Planting season

According to the National Weather Service forecast, daytime highs should reach into the upper 60s heading in to April in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania, where farmers have been dealing with one of the coldest winters on record.

Climate experts say that region is about two to three weeks behind season, with temperatures 3-5 degrees below normal for the first 10 weeks of 2014. The final week of March, temperatures were 5-15 degrees below normal.

The delayed start of spring leaves farmers with a few less days for planting, and an added stress on possible outcomes, but climatologists remain optimistic.

Paul Knight, Pennsylvania State Climatologist, said one of the benefits is the transition from cooler to warmer temperatures has mostly been dry—thus reducing the problem of heavy flooding.

“The slow return to more seasonal temperatures has been accompanied by mainly dry conditions so that the flooding risk has been diminished,” he wrote in Penn State’s Field Crop News.

Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi, based at Purdue University, said the wet or dry conditions they are currently seeing across the state are unlikely to change much over the month of April. If the soils are in good shape now, they should be ready for planting on time. But for fields that are too wet now, farmers can expect planting delays.

“Our best indication of the trend at this stage is persistence in weather patterns we have been experiencing,” Niyogi said. “We do not see anything drastically changing in the short term. We will be where we are.”

Niyogi said the weather likely will change toward more favorable conditions in the latter half of the growing season when an El Niño warming trend is expected to develop.

“This change comes on slowly,” he said. “It takes several months before we get a good grip on trends.”

For April, the average temperature could be about 2 to 4.5 degrees below normal in Indiana, according to an analysis by Ken Scheeringa, Associate State Climatologist. He reviewed temperatures over the past century and weather models of the U.S. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, which believes that the winter pattern will continue over the U.S.

While the average temperature would be below normal, Scheeringa noted that it would show a trend toward moderation relative to the two previous months. Indiana’s average temperature in February was about 8.7 degrees below normal, and March was running 6.6 degrees below normal.

Purdue Extension Corn Specialist Bob Nielsen said Indiana corn farmers should not be overly concerned about the weather forecast for spring planting. That is because the planting date by itself has “little predictive power” for absolute yield potential.

“Yield is determined by the cumulative effects of the season-long multitude of yield-influencing factors,” Nielsen said. “Growers should simply ‘go with the flow’ and deal with what Mother Nature gives them.”

In Texas, Dust Bowl like conditions were spreading across some areas, wreaking havoc on planting.

Reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agents were showing signs of very difficult working conditions for producers in the Panhandle, South Plains and Rolling Plains regions.

Mark Brown, AgriLife Extension Agent for Lubbock County, reported only a trace of moisture for March with sustained high winds and gusts of 58 mph on Mar. 18 accompanied by blowing dust.

Rick Auckerman, AgriLife Extension Agent in the western Panhandle, said wind speeds of 30 to 50 mph bore down on his area for most of last week, and producers were running out of tools to stop soil from blowing away.

Jerry Coplen, AgriLife Extension Agent for Knox County, west of Wichita Falls, noted cotton producers were trying to prepare planting beds in between dust storms.

On a good news note, the Southern and Southeastern parts of the state are doing much better, according to the reports. And parts of west Texas have gotten some decent rains during the past year.

Although soybeans typically are planted after corn, Extension Soybean Specialist Shaun Casteel said soybeans are more responsive to timely planting than is corn. If farmers are delayed in planting corn until late April or early May, he said soybeans should be planted at the same time.

“Late April to early May planting of soybeans is more critical for soybeans than for corn,” he said. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor