Ag Weather Forum

Heavy Rain and Northern Cold

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
Heavy precipitation is forecast through May 11 from Montana southeast to the Gulf Coast. (DTN graphic)

The end of April into early May was a productive week for spring planting across the U.S. According to the USDA Crop Progress reports, corn planting increased 29 percentage points to 46% complete, soybeans increased 16 percentage points to 24% complete, and spring wheat increased 21 percentage points to 49% complete. All three crops are well-ahead of the average pace of 36%, 11%, and 32%, respectively. Some states are even ahead of the rapid pace of 2020. A dry period April 25 through April 27 was very beneficial for planting progress. That drier stretch was followed by several days of showers in most crop areas to offer moisture for early growth.

The week ahead offers weather conditions that are not threatening to crops but pose some slowdowns in early development due to much cooler conditions. Temperatures have already fallen below freezing across the Northern Plains in early May. That burst of coolness will moderate as it works eastward through the Midwest during the next day or two but will be followed by another cool shot Wednesday and Thursday.

Temperatures will moderate in the Northern Plains for a couple of days, but another system will send temperatures below normal again for much of the Plains and Midwest during the weekend and into next week. Concerns for frost continue to wane as May advances, but the coolness could produce some frosty mornings if winds go calm and skies remain clear. Usually this is not indicative of widespread frost conditions, but more localized ones and brief. Thus, any damage may only be minor and localized, especially over the northern states.

The lower temperatures are also accompanied by several prospects for rainfall. For the first time in a while, this should include a good portion of the Northern Plains. As a system builds over the Northwest late this week, a stationary front will develop in the Northern Plains, closer to the Rockies. With upper level energy moving this front southward this coming weekend, there should be a mechanism to finally produce some good rainfall over Montana, South Dakota, and the western half of North Dakota. Eastern North Dakota may end up being too far away from the front to get much precipitation, however. Rainfall amounts will not be drought-busting, but amounts of 0.5 inch to 1 inch will certainly help ease some of the dryness in the region. If this rain forecast verifies, there could be some drought reduction closer to the Rockies.

The active upper atmosphere will also place frontal boundaries over the south-central U.S. along the gradient of warm and cold air. The Gulf of Mexico is a steady provider of warm, moist air into this boundary area. This brings the prospect for moderate to heavy rain from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf Coast. Severe storms are also part of this scene during the next 10 days.

Rain will not be as generous for Plains winter wheat. However, even the drier areas of the southwestern Plains are in line for at least 0.25 inch precipitation, which will be better than complete dryness. Rainfall will be a little more significant over the eastern Plains and through Nebraska as systems pick up a bit more steam when they move away from the Rockies.

The heavy rain means planting could be delayed a bit as soils become saturated, but crop moisture will be well-supplied in many areas. This is an encouraging setup for yield potential if soil moisture continues to be available. That is a key detail which we will be watching closely.

John Baranick can be reached at john.baranick@dtn.com

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