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'Wilder' spring weather ahead

Jeff Caldwell 02/16/2011 @ 3:45pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Spring fieldwork is underway in Jack Bridgers' area around Tchula in west-central Mississippi. And, even for those who are delayed a bit, they're "getting itchy" to get going.

"We are still wet from the snow last week, but with good forecast and warmer weather, our guys are getting itchy also,"  says Bridgers, a certified crop adviser with Jimmy Sanders Seed Company and Crop Tech Tour correspondent in Tchula. "Burning down some fields and spraying wheat this week. Will probably start with fertilizer next week on wheat. Corn planting will get started end of February or first week in March, depending on weather."

But, though farmers in Bridgers' area and points south are already getting into the field to get started on their 2011 crops, a recent weather outlook shows farmers in the Midwest might not want to let the recent spring-like weather get them too excited for planting just yet.

One early spring forecast shows it could be a wild start to the season, complete with more tornadoes than normal and even increased risk of late-season snowfall across the eastern 2/3 of the U.S.

"This spring should be a wilder one than last year," says Accuweather.com chief forecaster Joe Bastardi in summing up his outlook for the coming months.

The target are for late-season winter precipitation, Bastardi says, extends north from Interstate 70 in the Plains and gradually extends south to Interstate 40 moving east. And, those snow chances will be accompanied by unseasonably cold temperatures through much of that area from late March through the first week or so of April. "Occasionally, that cold air in the West will break out farther east across the country with areas north of I-70 being the main targets," according to Accuweather.com meteorologist Heather Buchman. "The air may be cold enough to allow wintry precipitation to fall, if the timing is right, into April."

But, that doesn't mean the cabin fever's going to be too stifling, Buchman adds. "For people who are sick of winter, it appears that the persistence of colder-than-normal conditions across much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation since December is over."

Beyond about mid-April, a volatile pattern will likely settle in over the nation's midsection, largely because of warmer air converging with the colder temps that will come and go through the season, Bastardi says. That will likely spawn higher-than-normal chances of tornadoes and other severe weather.

"The other major concern in the longer range is the potential for the severe weather season this spring to be more active than normal. This means there could be more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes than average," Buchman says. "It's the contrast between the colder air that will occasionally be invading the northern tier of the nation and the warm air expected to be dominant in the South that has AccuWeather.com long-range forecasters concerned. Where the warmer air to the south clashes with the colder air to the north is the zone where severe weather will be focused."

The area where tornadic activity is more likely, Bastardi says, is east of Interstate 35 into the Southeast and Ohio Valley. Elsewhere, though, the typical timeframe for severe spring weather may be delayed, Buchman adds.

"The peak in tornado season typically doesn't happen until April or May for much of the Plains, Midwest and Southeast. Some AccuWeather.com meteorologists have also pointed out that the severe weather season may get off to a late start this year, due to the fact that sea surface temperatures across the Gulf of Mexico are below normal," she says.

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