Ag Weather Forum

Midwest Drought Unlikely

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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In contrast to crop-withering hot high pressure in 1988, the early-summer upper air pattern features air-mass contrast, more variable temperatures, and periods of rain for the Corn Belt. (NOAA maps)

By coincidence, both 2016 and 1988 have the date of June 21 occurring on Tuesday. In the crop weather world, this coincidence is noteworthy, because there have been many comments over the past six months about how the 2016 crop season was going to mimic 1988 -- with extensive and exhaustive heat and dryness leading to significant yield loss. However, a look at the atmosphere setup on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, compared with 28 years ago on Tuesday, June 21, 1988, shows that the situation is entirely different -- with a crop weather forecast that is much more favorable.

The 1988 crop year featured dry conditions during spring, and that trend continued into summer. Dryness was then enhanced by the development of a huge dome of high pressure that sprawled across the majority of the contiguous U.S., extending from Nevada to Ohio going east to west, and from southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the Texas Panhandle north to south. This monster high was nicknamed the "dome of doom" -- and it literally choked off any chance of rain during the heart of the summer. The strength of the 1988 dome did not relax until early August. Crop yields suffered of course.

Our current crop year, 2016, has a much different upper-air setup than we saw 28 years ago. On the exact same day calendar-wise, June 21, the upper atmosphere featured warm to hot high pressure. However, the coverage of this year's feature was more focused over the southern half of the contiguous U.S., from south-central California east to the Delta. There was some extension as far north as central Wyoming, but otherwise the 2016 high showed very little encroachment into the nation's midsection -- in no way resembling the stifling dome of 1988. Another major departure in the pattern of 2016 versus 1988 was in the form of a prominent low pressure trough over most of Ontario, Canada, from the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay. This trough presence set up a strong temperature contrast between the hotter air southwest and the cooler air northeast, providing the mechanism for rising and falling parcels of air along with shower and thunderstorm development. Indeed, a broad swath of the Midwest, from southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to central Illinois and Indiana, had moderate to heavy rain overnight Tuesday through Wednesday afternoon. Forecast indications through the end of June into early July continue with this air-mass collision, and in fact show the upper-level high repositioning to a focus over the Four Corners area of the southwestern U.S., while more of the Midwest comes under the influence of the Great Lakes trough.

The bottom line is this: While there will be some instances of heat and dryness, this is not a year for a widespread Corn Belt drought.


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6/23/2016 | 9:49 AM CDT
Bryce- How does the 2016 upper-air setup compare to 1983? The current weather seems to be much closer to 1983. I agree that 2016 weather does not at all resemble 1988.Thanks.