The central Europe region from eastern France, Belgium and the Netherlands through Germany and northwestern Poland saw extreme drought conditions during the summer and fall periods of 2018.
This lead to very low soil moisture levels in the region while producers in the area were planting first the winter rapeseed crop and then the winter wheat crop. We have heard reports of uneven emergence of these crops and poor establishment prior to winter dormancy. There is even talk that some might need to replant come spring, in the worst drought areas. It will be important to see how winter will end up and whether there might be some improvement come spring.
As we look back at the December and January time frame, we see a significant increase in the amount and coverage of rain and snow in the area. Temperatures averaged generally above normal during December, so it is likely that rain during December helped improve soil moisture in the region.
However, it is unlikely that this late in the year that crop development improved much, if at all.
January followed with above normal precipitation as well, but in this case is was colder, which means more snow. It also means the ground was likely frozen, limiting the ability of this moisture to get deep into the ground. So, while we have seen improvement in the amount and coverage of precipitation falling in the area, it is not clear that the situation for crops has improved greatly at this point.
As we look at the situation at the mid-point of February, we note a turn to drier weather once again in the region. There are even indications of a building upper level ridge over the region, which is similar to what occurred late last year. This type of ridge can limit the potential for normal to above normal precipitation to occur in the region.
We note a forecast stretching out to almost the end of February that does not feature many chances for significant precipitation to occur. Temperatures are a little more difficult to call. At this time, a warm weather pattern is established and this looks to continue at least during the next week. Ridges in Europe can lead to cold weather if the center of the ridge moves to the north, over Scandinavia. If this were to occur, the clockwise flow around the ridge would bring the air masses into Europe from the east which would typically be a colder flow. I do not, at this time, see this happening but it will be something to watch.
In the longer range, extending the forecast out to April, we look to the weak El Nino in the Pacific. While the impact of El Nino on the weather in Europe is generally weak, the tendency would be for rainfall either side of the long-term averages: some below and some above normal. Since February is looking to be a below normal precipitation month in the area, it's likely that this would be enough to keep the three-month precipitations totals below normal as well. So, while we have seen an improving precipitation pattern in central Europe during the first part of the winter, it is not clear that this improving pattern would continue at the end of winter or during spring.
The winter wheat and winter rapeseed crops in central Europe are likely to be affected by the very dry situation that was the case last autumn. There is some chance that crop conditions would improve this spring due to the increase in precipitation this winter and the lack of severe cold conditions, to date. However, it is unlikely that this would be a dramatic improvement based on the expected weather patterns during the period. It is also possible that the area would slide back into a below normal rainfall pattern this spring which could make things worse.
Joel Burgio can be reached at email@example.com
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