Ag Weather Forum

Significant Spring 2019 Flood Threat

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Soil moisture relative to average is in the 99th percentile over almost the entire Midwest -- a sign of saturated ground. (NOAA graphic)

As we go into the final days of February, spring flood forecasts are being sent out. And, to no one's surprise in the eastern half of the U.S., those forecasts are sounding the alarm about a notably greater threat for flooding in spring 2019 compared with a year ago. The flood threat is especially high in the Midwest, Delta and the Mid-South. Ohio state hydrologist Jim Noel offered details on the flood prospect for the Mississippi and Ohio River basins during a NOAA regional climate outlook conference call Feb. 20.

Highlight details include: much of the Mississippi-Ohio basin is in the 90th percentile or higher for soil moisture; the basin is much wetter than a year ago in 2018; streamflow conditions are above normal in much of the region; ice remains in place in northern areas; ice jam action is at or above normal due to cold weather in the northern Midwest and Northern Plains.

The summation of these points leads to an outlook through April that calls for minor to moderate flooding across a large section of the Midwest. Some major flooding is possible. And, no surprise -- this is more widespread than last year.

You can take those comments and apply them to the Delta and Mid-South as well, if not increase their intensity. A producer in the Arkansas side of the Delta told me in early February that he had already had 30 inches of rain since Nov. 1, 2018, and there's been a lot more since that exchange.

Actions to take with this higher flood threat are, as one might assume, to get flood insurance in the affected areas. On the agricultural side, the issue is more complex. The higher flood threat means that the start of spring fieldwork will likely be later than usual. This leads to the prospect of later planting -- which, if the delay is long enough, may mean some switching out of crop allocation, or even making a decision to not plant at all if the wait is long enough.

Along with those decisions is the additional workload in field preparation as a result of the 2018 harvest being delayed by -- you guessed it -- wet conditions last fall. Not only was fertilizer application not accomplished in many areas, but wet fields at harvest time mean that deep ruts have to be cleaned up -- which is yet one more task to be done that, again, gets pushed back because of wet ground and the threat of flooding.

Comparison years to this year are hard to find. However, we have certainly had several seasons in the recent past (2011, 2013 and 2015 for example) when wet fields had a prominent role in the start of the crop year. It's shaping up to be that way again with this flood outlook.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

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