Ag Weather Forum

Soil Moisture Already in Place Strengthens 2020 Midwest Flood Threat

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Soil moisture levels in the northern and central U.S. are near the top of historic rankings. (NOAA graphic)

OMAHA (DTN) -- As central U.S. producers make plans to harvest corn and soybeans in a year marked by record rain and flooding, prospects already indicate the 2020 crop year could bring more of the same. That's because one of the building blocks of spring flooding -- ample amounts of soil moisture -- is already in place.

"We could easily have a high water event again next year," said NOAA hydrologist Corey Loveland. Loveland is with the NOAA North-Central River Forecast Center (RFC) in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He made his comments following a webinar Monday on inland flooding.

Loveland cited five "ingredients" in the flood recipe: 1. High soil moisture after the fall season, which can serve as a priming mechanism for flooding. 2. Frozen ground, causing late winter or early spring precipitation to run off instead of infiltrating the soil. 3. High snowpack, offering meltwater for flooding. 4. A rapid spring melt, causing snow to quickly turn into liquid and add to flooding. 5. Spring rain itself.

The lead factor -- soil moisture -- is already in place ahead of the 2020 spring season. "Everything is saturated as we start to move into the cold season," Loveland said. He's been at the North-Central RFC for just over a year; however, he cannot remember a rain pattern like the Northern Plains and northern Midwest experienced in 2019. "What's interesting is the amount of rain. Every time you think it's drying out, you get ... rainstorm after rainstorm," he said.

Loveland noted that flooding in 2019 likely set records for minor, moderate and major flooding in the North-Central RFC region, with minor flooding forecasts in effect for 96 consecutive days; moderate flood forecasts in effect for 94 consecutive days; and major flooding forecasts in effect for 51 consecutive days. "That's got to be a record for our office," he said.

The four other factors besides soil moisture -- winter temperatures, snowpack, spring melt, and spring rain -- do not have to be too intense for flood threats to be significant in 2020. NOAA will publish its first National Flood Outlook in mid-March. Loveland is sure flooding threats will be notable.

"Everyone throws in their forecast for snowpack, and right now it's trending wet," Loveland said. "Unless things change within the winter, we could easily get a normal to above normal snowpack this winter. Spring weather is the wild card, due to temperatures."

Bryce Anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

(ES/CZ)

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