Spring Weather Looking Good for Most of the Country

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Meteorologists predict a transition from La Nina, but periodic weather challenges will still occur, indicating critical spring planting plans must be flexible.

Brad Pugh, Meteorologist, Climate Prediction Center

Brad Pugh, Meteorologist, Climate Prediction Center

Meteorologists and agronomists are cautiously optimistic a shift from La Nina to a neutral El Nino-Southern Oscillation-neutral (ENSO-neutral) will occur between now and May. This means El Nino nor La Nina weather patterns will be in play.

Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), works at its Climate Prediction Center. He’s part of a nationwide team with expertise in meteorology and climatology who study weather and work with highly skilled computer programmers to make accurate short- and long-term forecasts using observations and physical equations. He’s also one of the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“At the Climate Prediction Center, our focus includes predictions from two weeks in advance, through the next month and for the season,” Pugh says. “We’re on our third winter of La Nina now, but there are signs it is weakening and we expect an end to it over the next few months, along with a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during the next three months.

“However, there tends to be a lag in the atmospheric response, so even though we expect an end to La Nina relatively soon, typical weather patterns associated with it may continue into spring,” he adds. “For example, during a La Nina, we generally see a wet spring across the Ohio Valley, so we’re currently favoring above-normal precipitation for it and the Corn Belt this spring.”

Pugh predicts February, March and April will bring colder-than-normal temperatures to the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies and northern plains. The Southwest and southern plains will likely experience above-normal temperatures.

Drought Concerns

Drought still a concern

The Tennessee Valley is also predicted to have a wet spring and it’s likely going to be drier in the southwest plains, according to John Baranick, ag meteorologist with DTN, a subscription-based weather and agricultural news service.

John Baranick, Ag Meteorologist, DTN

John Baranick, Ag Meteorologist, DTN

“What we’ve observed over December and into January is almost more of an El Nino pattern rather than a La Nina pattern,” Baranick says. “We’re all aware of all the rainfall and flooding in California, as well as all the snowpack that’s rebuilt across some of the western states, which we haven’t seen the last couple of La Nina winters.

“But drought has persisted across the plains and remains the biggest concern going forward. As we get into spring, areas from Nebraska southward, including those that saw winter wheat planted in the dust last fall, it looks like it’s going to come up with limited soil moisture paired with a forecast that doesn’t look great at getting moisture back into the soil. Lack of moisture is my biggest concern for crops in these areas for the season ahead, simply because of the poor conditions the crops started in and the winter there hasn’t been that active.”

Along with Pugh, Baranick does not recommend putting away winter coats just yet. La Nina may be easing, but it’s not a quick process.

“Colder conditions are still forecast for February, March and most of April across the north central U.S., Baranick says. “So, we’re going to deal with bursts of Arctic air more often than we’ll see bursts of warmth.”

Late Planting

Looking good in general, but some later planting possible

Baranick says there is good snowpack across the northwestern Corn Belt and with the recent storm that went through Texas and across the Ohio Valley, there is soil moisture above normal across the Corn Belt outside of parts of Missouri and southern Iowa.

“Things are looking pretty good in this region for some good soil moisture in spring,” Baranick says. “But, with cold conditions leaking into April, I’m concerned a lot of the snow will be slow to melt. This is good for controlling flooding, which I think will be minimal, despite having a lot of snowpack to melt through.

“This will likely lead to some slow planting once spring hits,” he adds. “Anybody in the northwestern part of the Corn Belt with plans to plant in April might need to start planning for later. In the eastern Corn Belt, we have potential wetness concerns that could limit early plantings, as well. We still have some drought west of the Mississippi River, but with the good snowpack we have and the likelihood of at least maintaining normal precipitation going into spring, I think we’re set for at least decent soil moisture for the early part of the growing season.”

Baranick notes there will naturally be pockets where conditions are picture perfect, soil moisture is just right, it didn’t get too cold, the snowpack melts well and everything goes according to plan. But these will be in the minority.

Be Prepared

Planting time can come on quickly

Josh Shofner, Pioneer Strategic Account Manager

Josh Shofner, Pioneer Strategic Account Manager

These local variations are not lost on Josh Shofner, Pioneer Strategic Account Manager in southeast Minnesota. He recommends being ready for planting now as it will arrive before we know it.

“Part of the state got really dry last year, so we’re not sitting on excessively wet soil,” Shofner says. “You never know when the snow will start melting. Ideally, we’d like to start planting by April 20th; April 25th at the latest. It all hinges on temperature, but if we get an average April, we could be planting on time or early.

“We’ve had good snowfall across the state so far this winter and will likely get more,” he adds. “It may not fully catch us up on moisture. But it’s going to help bring up the Mississippi River levels hopefully enough that full barges of fertilizer can be floated upriver.”

Brian Early, Pioneer Field Agronomist

Brian Early, Pioneer Field Agronomist

Northern Indiana farmers could use some moisture catch-up, as well. Crops last year did relatively well, despite some dryness that persisted at season’s end.

“Crops survived on subsoil moisture and yields were about 20 percent lower than normal, but because of the dryness we had no disease,” Brian Early, Pioneer Field Agronomist, says. “I’m concerned about the dryness. Even late last summer, you could dig six feet down and not find much moisture. It’s going to take a while to replenish that.”

Flexibility is Key

Be ready. Be flexible.

The sooner you have equipment and supplies ready for planting, the better.

Pugh suggests using the online tools available at the Climate Prediction Center and Storm Prediction Center, as well as other National Weather Service tools to prepare for weather conditions. (See Weather Tools)

Map - U.S. 6-10 Day Precipitation Outlook

Prepare for weather with tools like the 6-10 Day Precipitation Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center.

“Local weather forecasts are important, and the U.S. Drought Monitor is a comprehensive source for monitoring drought conditions,” he says. “It’s a snapshot each week and the authors who draw the maps have many input tools that go into them, including local feedback. The Climate Prediction Center has drought outlooks on monthly and seasonal scales, as well as short- and long-term weather forecasts.”

There’s also a new disease that is extremely weather-dependent. Black tar spot is a fungal disease of corn and can rob a lot of yield.

“This disease likes moisture, so if you get excess rain in mid- to late-summer, it can be devastating,” Shofner says. “Pioneer has hybrids that are tolerant of tar spot, but the risk is real and hybrid selection is important, especially as this disease spreads.”

As you must be with weather, be flexible with inputs.

“When it comes to pesticides and herbicides, supply chain shortages from the coronavirus pandemic still exist,” Early says. “You’ve got to be flexible on the products you use until things get back in order.”

“Even if we return to normal weather patterns, not everyone will get normal precipitation, but that’s normal,” Baranick says.

Weather Tools

National Weather Service Offers Year-round Weather Guidance

The National Weather Service (NWS) is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and offers multiple weather tools that can help guide you from pre-planting to post-harvest. In addition to regional and national centers, NWS relies on work by professionals in more than 120 local offices.

Brad Pugh is a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center and works with a variety of forecasts, including weather hazards two weeks in advance, monthly to seasonal temperature outlooks, monthly to seasonal drought outlooks and the U.S. Drought Monitor. He notes an array of tools farmers can use to plan around weather. Plus, he says staff at the NWS welcome local feedback.

These tools include:

  • NWS home page: forecasts, forecast maps, radar, river, lakes, rainfall, air quality and past weather.
  • Climate Prediction Center: 6- to 10-day outlook, 8- to 14-day outlook, week 3 to 4 outlook, drought information, 1-month outlooks, 8- to 14-day hazards outlook.
  • U.S. Drought Monitor: current drought map, map comparisons, archives, animations, outlooks.
  • Storm Prediction Center: convective outlooks, watches, fire weather looks, severe thunderstorm and tornado watch summaries.

Current Drought Map

Map - U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Map courtesy of NDMC.