Ag Weather Forum

Drier Forecast for Next Week Depends on Strength, Duration of Western Ridge

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
There is some optimism for drier conditions to develop east of the Rockies for at least a period next week, dependent upon the strength of an upper-level ridge developing in the Western U.S. (Tropical Tidbits graphic)

Active doesn't even begin to describe the weather pattern we have witnessed in North America this spring. The constant barrage of storm systems has almost wiped out drought east of the Rockies with small pockets of precipitation deficits outside of western Kansas. And it hasn't seemed to matter what the upper levels have looked like. We have seen many configurations over the last few months, but that has still meant widespread precipitation over much of the country, heavy rain, and lots of severe weather.

Remarkably, in the face of the continued active weather last week, producers still got out to plant. According to USDA's NASS Crop Progress report, as of May 19, corn planting progress actually accelerated to 70% complete, just one percentage point behind the five-year average of 71%. Soybeans moved up to 52% complete, three percentage points ahead of the five-year average of 49%. Last week, corn was five points behind the five-year average and soybeans were just one point ahead. The gain in momentum was quite miraculous given that large areas of the country were smacked with heavy rain that came after weeks of wet weather. But there is still 30% of the corn crop and almost half of the soybean crop left to be planted. Windows are closing for being planted too late and taking statistical losses right when the seed is planted. The country needs a good stretch of dry weather and there is some optimism on the horizon.

But we'll have to go through another wet week first. The pattern has set up almost perfectly to funnel disturbance after disturbance, system after system, right through the Corn Belt. Multiple days of heavy rain and severe storms have already started, bringing amounts over four inches to portions of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa as of early Tuesday morning. Widespread precipitation amounts of over two more additional inches are forecast for almost all of the Corn Belt's primary corn and soybean areas through Monday, May 27. Those areas not forecast to see quite that much include Michigan in the northeast and Kansas in the southwest. And there are plenty of areas in the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley forecast to receive more than two inches. Flooding is a real possibility across both of these areas. Severe weather will also be a constant feature.

But after this weekend, the pattern does look to slow down. An upper-level ridge will be building in the Intermountain West on Monday, May 27, and build northward into the Canadian Prairies as well. That will force an upper-level trough to move into the Eastern U.S. Such a pattern promotes northwest flow east of the Rockies -- a much drier look. While disturbances still may come through, they come with a lack of usable moisture. Any showers should be very isolated after May 28. But the question will be, how long can that last?

The strength of this ridge will ultimately decide whether or not stronger disturbances that will be building in the North Pacific will have the ability to push through it and into the Plains. Early indications are the ridge will hold up for most of next week but could be too weak to hold back a disturbance from moving eastward next weekend as the calendar flips over to June, the start of meteorological summer. A storm system of some magnitude is likely to go through the country, but to what degree is uncertain as it will depend on many things, including that ridge.

The European model builds the ridge back into the West behind it and keeps it stronger, but the GFS model isn't as strong with that ridge going into early June. That would give at least a short window of drier conditions, but the potential for it to only last on the order of three to four days before the early June system messes up the pattern and makes it active again. That window might be too short for some that have had heavy rain and still have planting to do to go out and plant with good soil conditions. Producers may opt to plant in sub-optimal conditions, as I suspect many did this past week, or plant late. Of course, producers will not want this ridge to last too long into June, as their crops will need good moisture over a summer that features a developing La Nina signature in the tropical Pacific Ocean that could lead to hotter and drier conditions for some areas during the most critical time of the year.

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