Cold weather brings chain reaction of weather anomalies

by Drew Lerner
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Persistent cold weather since late February in much of central North America has brought on a chain reaction of weather anomalies that are threatening crop production in 2013.

Much of the central U.S. Midwest has surplus to excessive soil moisture with flooding under way in many areas. A great amount of snow on the ground from the northern U.S. Plains into Canada’s Prairies will begin to melt aggressively into early May resulting in flooding great enough to further delay the onset of spring fieldwork. In the meantime, multiple freezes in U.S. hard red winter wheat country have further reduced the size of this year’s crop after drought had its way with the region last autumn and during the winter.

The final big anomaly in North America is the lack of rain in western and southern Texas. Changing weather in early May will bring warmer conditions to North America, less rain to the U.S. Midwest and a chance for periodic thunderstorms in the southern Plains. Flooding in Canada and the United States will peak in early May giving way to better crop conditions later in the month.

Flooding that accompanied the rain that fell in the southeastern half of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan during the week ended April 23 seriously set back fieldwork with rain totals for the week running from 2 inches to more than 6 inches over a large region of important corn production country. The rain came with a short-term surge of warm air in the eastern Midwest while the northern and central Plains and western Corn Belt were dominated by unusually cold temperatures.

The cold and wet conditions maintained deep snow cover in the upper Midwest where the potential for spring flooding is rising exponentially for the first half of May when the snow finally melts. The cold and wet conditions during the past week were responsible for keeping corn planting on hold leaving progress at just 4% complete as of April 22, which is tied for the worst start to corn planting since the infamous 1993 growing season when flooding was a widespread and serious problem in the Midwest.

World Weather, Inc. does not believe this is the start of another 1993 season with excessive rainfall and constant delays to fieldwork. Instead rainfall is expected to remain frequent and mostly well-timed for a while as temperatures trend a little warmer and the end result will “eventually” be better planting and crop development potential. The weather in early May is going to seem much like that of normal for early April, which means temperatures may bounce around quite a bit and crop development rates will be a little sluggish at times during the spring and early summer.

Record flooding is not expected in the upper U.S. Midwest or in the Red River Basin of the north this season, but a rather substantial amount of snow will be melting all at once making the first half of May a tough time for travel and field working opportunities. Many areas from the Red River Basin north northwest into a large portion of Canada’s Prairies will be facing similar flood threats, and this year’s wet and cool bias is bound to leave crops at least two to four weeks behind their usual development pace, and that may lead to a shortened growing season if autumn frost and freezes come normally or even a little earlier than usual.

Statistics from the past have suggested that corn planted in the U.S. Midwest in late April and May usually suffer a penalty of a few bushels per acre yield in some corn production areas. Some wheat, barley, corn, soybean and canola production along with some flax and chickpeas also may be negatively impacted in Canada and the north-central United States because of the slow start to the growing season and anticipated wet and cooler biased crop areas.

Needless to say, rain is not needed across the Midwest right now. The other part of the past week’s weather that was important was the constant cold weather that was present in western and northern parts of the region. The only warm conditions were in the lower Ohio River Basin and areas south into the Delta, Tennessee River Basin and southeastern states, which is why much of that region has a little better soil moisture than the heart of the Midwest. Some heavy rain was noted from southeastern Mississippi to southern Georgia and northern Florida where the ground also became too wet for a while last week.

The Midwest is in need of a break from the wet and cold weather pattern or more notable delays to fieldwork will evolve in the last days of April and early May.

This week’s rainfall and temperature trend may not help the environment for fieldwork very much. Just enough rain will fall to keep some fields muddy and air temperatures will be cool enough again that soil temperatures will be a little low in many areas for the best field working conditions.

World Weather, Inc. is encouraged that some warming will occur in early May and the rainfall pattern will ease up somewhat to help induce a better net drying environment. However, with that said, the first week of May will be dominated by a slightly warmer temperature regime in the Midwest while showers and thunderstorms still will come and go across the region in a relatively normal manner. Temperatures may have to rise above average to keep evaporation rates high enough to firm the soil between rain events, and that may be a tough request for early May. Nevertheless, warming is expected in a large part of the Midwest while rainfall continues periodically. The trend will be toward at least some slow improvement.

In the meantime weather anomalies in Texas have been almost as extreme as those in the Midwest, but instead of it being too wet the region is too dry. The Midwest pattern is expected to change in late April and May and so shall the pattern in parts of Texas. Numerous short-term bouts of scattered showers and thunderstorms will begin to impact portions of Texas, but the big soakings that are needed to restore deep subsoil moisture and water supply are not anticipated anytime soon. Light precipitation will help improve planting prospects for corn, soybeans, sorghum, peanuts and cotton.

The majority of crop areas in West and South Texas have received 50% or less of normal precipitation since the beginning of January. Some areas have reported less than 25% of normal precipitation. Both areas have trended seriously dry for more than 3 years and the lack of precipitation since the beginning of 2013 has only perpetuated the seriously dry conditions.

Crop outlooks in much of Texas will remain unfavorable until a significant lift in soil moisture occurs. Crops last year suffered from a combination of both dryness and excessively hot conditions. Temperatures this summer may not be as chronically hot, but if spring rainfall does not increase dramatically in the next few weeks it may turn out to be an equally dry summer with serious implications for many crops. Temperatures are expected to trend warmer than usual, but not quite as oppressively hot as last year.

Portions of south and west Texas do irrigate, and as long as water supply lasts there will be some hope for at least a portion of the usual production this year.

The changing weather patterns in North America over the coming week will set the stage for “opportunities” for rain in portions of western and southern Texas and areas northward into the west-central high Plains. The precipitation also may impact portions of central and eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas at times. No general soaking is expected, but the occurrence of showers and thunderstorms will increase so that pockets of improvement begin. Eventually, the number of pockets experiencing better soil moisture will expand and eventually an improving trend in crop and field conditions may result. A full return of “normal” weather is not expected, but enough rain will fall to move the region into a better position for planting the remaining crops and supporting some of their development — at least for a little while.

The best opportunity for precipitation in the southern Plains during the coming week looked to be Sunday, April 28, into Wednesday, May 1. Precipitation potentials will continue during the May 2-9 period. Some of the coming two weeks of rain will be lost to evaporation within a short period of its fall, but it will at least set a trend toward some improvement, and by adding moisture to the region there will be less chance for oppressive heat and a better chance for additional showers and thunderstorms.
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