Frost fears for crops rise on North America cooling

by Drew Lerner
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KANSAS CITY — A new chapter in the “Is the sky falling” memoirs of climate change are being written this month as North America experiences a colder-than-usual August. Most indicators suggest the recent cool bout of weather in North America will prevail through August that will add new fuel to the fire of climate change. However, the real discussion among grain and oilseed traders is whether the latest bias in anomalous weather means much for early frost and freezes this year.

Look how far we have come as a society in one year. In the summer of 2012 we were experiencing the worst drought since 1934 and predictions of multiple years of drought were commonplace in the general public and parts of the scientific community. Predictions of ongoing drought continued throughout the winter of 2012-13, but in the midst of all that was an unusually cold and snowy winter — not only in North America, but throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The scuttlebutt returned to the old scapegoat of climate change and the doomsday forecasts that were prevalent during the summer heat wave, and drought returned blaming the unusual winter on the same climate change generating excessive heat and dryness. Can the alarmists have it both ways?

The unusually cold and wet winter and spring of 2013 was blamed on the same ideology that we have created this environment we are living in, and man is the all-powerful being that can change the world with its fossil fuel burning. And yet logic begs the question as to how did we explain the droughts and heat waves of the 1930s and 1950 as well as some of the extremely volatile weather that was written about in the chronicles of many a pioneer. They blamed it on God and they may have got it right, but will we ever admit it?

Cycles in the atmosphere still seem to be the primary reason for weather being as wild as it is. What little documentation we do have suggests we have been here before. The 18-year cycle and the World Weather Inc. Trend Model have done a fantastic job predicting weather this year and it is all about cycles. We have been here before, but we just do not know it.

The power of the sun’s cooling is having a greater influence on weather cycles around the globe, and if you think the weather is weird now just wait another few years. It is only going to be more wild and extreme.

So, if it is all about cycles, what is next? The greatest challenge in all of weather forecasting is predicting that first frost and freeze event of the season. Some farmers and traders would pay enormous amounts of money to know how the cycles portray the risk of frost and freezes in North America this coming autumn. The need for an extended growing season in 2013 is probably about as great as it has been since 1974 when a late start to the growing season was followed by nearly ideal mid-summer weather and then the worst early September freezes on the recent record books struck and cut Canada and U.S. Midwest crops production in half overnight. Fears of this cycle repeating are rising as North America experienced an unusually cold finish to July and start to August.

Temperatures in the heart of Canada’s Prairies fell to 35 degrees Fahrenheit July 26 and Bismarck, N.D., fell to 39, July 27 while a few areas in northern Iowa reported extremes to 40. Those dates in July are traditionally in the warmest week of the year — on average. The summer solstice occurs around June 20 each year, and about six weeks later tradition has it that the Northern Hemisphere is usually reporting its warmest average temperatures during the last days in July. Maybe not this year, especially not in North America.

The unusually late spring this year impacted most of North America, Europe and parts of Asia. Most of the Northern Hemisphere did not start warming significantly until just a few weeks ago. Now the sun’s angle is already moving back lower on the horizon, and in just a few more weeks the arctic will begin to experience notable cooling again and the opportunities for significant Northern Hemisphere warming for 2013 will be over. So, does that mean we are destined for early frost and freezes that will follow the 1974 disaster? Probably not, at least not just like that of 1974.

A large part of the United States and a small part of Canada’s southeastern Prairies will experience cooler-biased temperatures in August. The cool weather may be a rather persistent feature. However, the coolness will be more of an anomaly in the United States than it will be in Canada. Temperatures in much of the Canadian Prairies this month will be warmer than usual suggesting that they may not cool off as greatly as the rest of North America, and that supports our Trend Model forecast for a normal to slightly later-than-usual first frost and freeze event in 2013. The delay in bringing freezes may impact the eastern Canada Prairies and the upper U.S. Midwest along with a part of the west-central Plains.

The lower parts of the U.S. Midwest will be a different story. Earlier-than-usual frost and freezes may occur in those crop areas and the impact may be mixed since crops in the lower and eastern Midwest are expected to be a little more mature than those in the upper Midwest when the autumn frost/freeze season arrives. However, if August is going to be a cooler biased period of time, crop maturities may end up a little later than usual in the lower and eastern parts of the Midwest still leaving those areas a little more vulnerable to potential crop damaging conditions.

Most of the atmospheric cycles are poised on the last week of September and early October for the first serious intrusion of crop threatening cold in the lower Midwest. The Upper Midwest, northern U.S. Plains and parts of the eastern Canada Prairies also will experience cold weather at that time, but most likely there will be a previous bout of coolness in the northern parts of North America that will occur a little earlier than these dates bringing on a more seasonable to slightly later-than-usual frost and freeze date.

It is extremely difficult and downright stupid for a meteorologist to attempt forecasting the first frost and freeze event of the season, especially in light of recent years of past forecasting
performance. To accurately predict the first frost and freeze event one has to predict low temperatures on a specific date some 6 to 10 weeks from now and be correct within 1 degree of temperatures. What are the odds of that happening? If the outlook was left to the climate change people there will either be record heat or record cold this autumn and most of us will probably die from it whatever it is. But for this forecaster we will leave the debate up to the cycles and much prayer for verification.

The bottom-line impact is that there likely will be quite a few crops this autumn that will be negatively impacted by frost and freezes just because crops are so immature. The odds do not favor a substantially late first freeze for anywhere in North America and some of the latest planted crop areas need at least a full month of delayed freezes (without considering the poor degree day accumulations that are expected in August) to avoid damage. The question is how much damage will occur rather than if damage will occur.
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