Ag Weather Forum

Dry, Cold Western Midwest Spring

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Late-winter snow in western Iowa produced minimal soil moisture while delaying the start of field work. (DTN photo by Bryce Anderson)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The word "extreme" is getting a workout regarding spring 2013 vs. spring 2012. A year ago, record-high temperatures and dry soils had corn growers running planters by mid-March. There's a sharp contrast in 2013: Daytime temperatures running 20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal have made March seem like a displaced version of January.

There's no March corn planting in the Midwest this year.

Even precipitation from powerful snowstorms in late February and March has not led to a meaningful rebound from last summer's drought. For the Western Corn Belt, this spring presents a cold pattern with widely varied precipitation, certainly not enough to recharge soil moisture.

"Our whole thinking has shifted because of a change in the upper air pattern that happened mid-February; we just flipped the switch," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino. "A shell of high pressure built up between Alaska and Greenland, it's been strengthening, and it looks like one of the most single dominant features of the weather pattern that we know of."

The far-northern latitude high pressure's influence is profound. Its presence interferes, or blocks, the usual jet stream track in the far north, and forces that air flow -- with associated low temperatures -- farther south. This pattern has brought well-below-normal temperatures to all the primary U.S. and Canadian Prairie crop regions. Precipitation, on the other hand, has been widely varied, with many locations in the Western Corn Belt still running far short of what is needed to resupply the soil moisture profile for this season's crops.

"You've clearly got the entire Corn Belt on the cold side," said Mike Palmerino. "But, in the western and the northern growing areas it stays dry because these areas are so embedded in the cold air. It's only the areas south and east of Des Moines (Iowa) that would be the wettest with this pattern."

Drier conditions offer some concern for Dennis Todey, South Dakota state climatologist. "I'm concerned about the dryness, not for spring because of soil warming and field work, but after planting is an issue," he said. "In southern South Dakota and west of the Missouri River, it's very, very dry. I don't see a refill of the soil moisture profile this spring."

Big soil moisture deficits are also paramount for Nebraska State Climatologist Al Dutcher. Nebraska suffered its driest year on record in 2012, and has shown very little recovery so far in 2013.

"We have overcome a dry slot from New Mexico north to the Sand Hills (northern Nebraska) ... but the biggest thing is big deficits. We're already a good 3 inches behind normal," Dutcher said. "The bottom line is we need every single precipitation event to materialize. Normal won't do it."

As far as planting dates are concerned, the later-time scenario is firmly in Dutcher's mind. "We will for sure not see any April planting this year in southeast Nebraska," he said. "In the Platte Valley, planting had been going earlier than late April since the late 1980s, but this year I expect to see a later-April planting date."

DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom said that later planting schedule will be prominent in the collective mind of the commodity markets this spring.

"Delayed plantings put into question the ability of the U.S. to increase (corn) acreage, and also mean pollination will likely occur in July. A late-pollinating corn crop could lead to similar crop problems as seen in 2010 and 2011," Newsom said.

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