Ag Weather Forum

When Normal is Early

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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All northern and central U.S. crop areas face a threat of row crop damage from even an average first freeze in fall 2019. (Vegetation Impact Program graphic)

This blog posting is to offer some clarification. During the last week or two, the impression has gotten out in the ag community -- at least to some extent -- that DTN is calling for an early freeze to finish out the year 2019. I have felt that there is some lack of a complete understanding regarding the fall weather pattern forecast. So, at the risk of adding yet more language to the fray, here goes:

The DTN fall weather forecast does not call for an early freeze in the central U.S. HOWEVER -- this season got started so late, that crops in practically the entire Midwest, along with the Northern and Central Plains, will need a later-than-average first freeze in order to have a chance at something approaching normal maturity.

How much of a lag depends on many factors -- prominently the planting date and subsequent local weather developments. Some areas may need just a few days' worth of a later-than-typical freeze. Others may need borderline-record-late occurrences of around two weeks or so delay for that first freeze. However, that may be a tall order. It's one thing to suggest that weather patterns at a given time are offering the potential for record-this or record-that; it's another thing to forecast that.

Another notable factor in this strange fall season ahead is this: In a typical year, the average first frost date of mid-October in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio doesn't even get attention. Why? Because, in most years, crops in the eastern Midwest have already reached maturity, dried down, and in many operations already been harvested. And so, we focus on the northern Midwest and the Northern Plains for freeze concern.

This year, that sanguine attitude is out of place. The wet spring and planting delays mean that many crops in the eastern Midwest will not achieve maturity until mid-October. That's right at the time of the average first freeze. Farther north, I have already heard of producers in North Dakota needing at least Oct. 1 to roll around before a freeze hits. That's right at the end of the average time frame of Sept. 21-30 for the first freeze.

The forecast over the next week to 10 days is mild, which means no early freeze is indicated. But, the season is not over with by any means. It is not an overstatement to say that, when it comes to the first season-ending freeze, that this is a year when "normal" means "early" for crops.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

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