Ag Weather Forum

Active but Mild Pattern

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
A stormy end of November is in store for the southern and eastern U.S. with a strong polar vortex locking cold Arctic air near the North Pole. (DTN graphic)

Fall harvest is essentially complete for soybeans, but there are still some holdouts for corn around the Great Lakes. Wisconsin is at 92% complete, Michigan at 91%, and Ohio at 87%. Wisconsin and Michigan are still eclipsing the five-year average, but Ohio trails it by 2 percentage points. Dryness was followed by a wet weekend across much of the Midwest last week. A more active storm pattern continues through this week and into next week as well, due to an active jet stream.

In the wintertime, a dual jet stream pattern emerges. The southern stream is currently the active one. But the northern stream, referred to as the polar vortex, is not. When strong and inactive, the polar vortex "locks" cold air near the Arctic. When it is weaker, it breaks into pieces, sending bouts of Arctic air southward through continental Europe, Asia, and North America. So, while the outlook over the next seven to 10 days is active with several storm systems moving through the country, conditions will be more seasonally cool instead of a blast of Arctic freezes.

The active pattern is helpful for winter wheat. Storm systems are appearing to line up from the Southern Plains through the Ohio Valley every few days. This is producing good rainfall for the winter wheat belts. However, not all areas are being hit equally. Rainfall deficits in the western Plains have been significant during the last few months and the current storms are only expected to produce scattered lighter precipitation, not to mention sub-freezing temperatures.

Rainfall during the last 90 days in western Kansas through the Texas Panhandle and points westward are sitting at less than 50% of normal. Winter wheat conditions in these areas have steadily fallen during the last month. But from roughly Interstate 35 eastward, precipitation has been much better. Winter wheat good-to-excellent ratings fell by 7 percentage points this week in Oklahoma but are still 14 percentage points above where they were at the beginning of the month at 48% good to excellent. However, the Kansas ratings are low with only 26% good to excellent, down 3 points from a week ago. The Texas rating is just 24% good to excellent while the Colorado wheat crop shows a mere 17% good to excellent.

In the Midwest, winter wheat conditions remain good. Good-to-excellent ratings have stabilized as bouts of moderate rain moved through over the weekend. More moderate showers this week may be followed by more during the weekend and into next week. Models are uncertain if this storm will bring showers across the Ohio River. But even if it does not, topsoil moisture has improved greatly since the end of summer and the wheat should be able to build good root zones prior to dormancy. Forecasts suggest that while seasonal chills may occur, arctic temperatures will remain locked up near the North Pole through December, likely extending the development time frame.

An active storm track across the southern tier of the U.S. is not good news for the remaining cotton harvest. While producers in the Delta are nearly finished, there are still some larger areas yet to be harvested in Texas and across the Southeast. The current system will produce lighter precipitation across the Texas Panhandle and the Southeast, but a storm Friday through Monday may produce more meaningful precipitation, leading to harvest delays and quality issues. For the Southeast, where tropical storms have been moving through this fall season, dry weather would be most welcome. But that does not appear to be in the cards.

John Baranick can be reached at


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