Projected storm tracks across the central United States as we head toward the middle of March are much more promising for Southern Plains precipitation than indicated just a week ago. Forecast models in the first couple days of the month placed storm centers around Colorado and Wyoming, creating dryness in the southwestern Plains region. This blog noted on March 2 that a shift further south could be possible, which would have more positive impacts for these winter wheat areas.
Indeed, the more recent model presentations show that an upper-level low pressure center should deepen a bit more, cut off from the primary jet stream, and produce a storm system coming out of the Rockies around the Texas Panhandle instead of Colorado. This will mean a major precipitation producer for the Central and Southern Plains for March 13-15.
Precipitation wrapping around the north side of this low track will see liquid equivalents likely in the 1- to 3-inch range and locally heavier. I say liquid equivalent because for the High Plains, this will come mostly in the form of snow. This will be a major snowfall event for Colorado, southeast Wyoming, and western Nebraska with over 12 inches looking likely and over 24 inches being possible. There is some uncertainty to that potential snow amount, but the ingredients all seem to be there for a major event in this region.
This will be a very good storm for the Northern Plains region, bringing much-needed precipitation. An area that has been in drought for roughly a year could stand to see some heavy precipitation. With a lot of this producing runoff, it will not eliminate drought, which will take more than just this one event. But for winter wheat that is coming out of dormancy in a drought, it will be very welcome.
For the rest of the Central and Southern Plains, the moderate to heavy rain may come with severe thunderstorms. This early in the year it is typically hail and gusty winds that occur and cause damage rather than tornadoes. But we could see all modes of severe weather with this dynamic storm, and across a wide area.
The system will continue northeastward through the Midwest and may bring some good snowfall to South Dakota and Minnesota, or possibly even Iowa and eastern Nebraska, which all are areas that need precipitation. There is quite a bit of uncertainty for the Western Corn Belt and will require further model runs to home in on.
Following the snow will be below-normal temperatures in the Plains, not uncommon for fresh snowfall, especially in March. Winter wheat may see some issues due to the snow and cold, but more than likely the snow will provide good cover against the freeze, insulating it from the harshest effects. But heavy snow of this magnitude could mean a week or more melting, which would have a negative impact on the vulnerable plants.
There are still some rather significant details to work out with this system, but it appears March may have one big storm for the Plains in the books before it runs out. The progressive pattern that models continue to show for the rest of March would point to more storms but be more of the weaker variety.
However, as we have seen with the coming storm this weekend, we should not rule out the possibility of another major storm this month. However, I am not too optimistic for this to occur, given the pattern.
John Baranick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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