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A weather pattern trend?

03/22/2013 @ 4:16pm

On the 10 p.m. news last night, the meteorologist noted that the all-time record low for the date was set in 1974 at 1 degree above zero. That comment set in motion my thinking about weather extremes that I have experienced in my lifetime. Spring, in 1974, was cold and wet. If my memory serves me correctly, the last rain was on June 14. The following six weeks were the hottest comparable period in my years of farming. I think that the hottest day during that time was 114 degrees. Most of the other days were over 100. Even the blast-furnace conditions of 2012 were not as hot for as long as that spell in 1974.

Other times of extreme heat were 1954 through 1956 and 1975 through 1977. I remember well the drought in the 1950s. I was in high school. By the time I graduated in 1957, many of us thought that the heat and dry conditions were the start of the trend toward global warming. Maybe they were, but adequate rain fell that summer. The following years, until 1974, were close to normal, and crop yields were much better.

Flash forward to conditions this year. There is no question in my mind that global warming is a fact. There are reams of data showing that the temperatures around the world, as they are now recorded, are the highest in human history. I question what is causing this anomaly. Is it the beginning of a trend? Is it a series of unusual years that accidentally came together? Or is it a sampling error resulting from taking temperature readings in urban locations, as opposed to rural areas, which was common in the last century. If it is the beginning of a trend, as many claim, is it caused by human activity? Or possibly, could it be caused by something natural that is impossible to control?

The drought of 2012 is fresh in farmers’ minds as we prepare for another growing season. With the weather today much cooler than a year ago, a little localized warming seems like a good idea. The simple fact is that last year's summer heat or this spring's coolness are not good indicators of the kind of summer growing season that is ahead. Even the lack of subsoil moisture, such as farmers in my area are currently experiencing, does not necessarily mean the summer will be dry or hot. The good growing season of 2000 followed one of the driest spells in history. The drought just happened to occur that year between November and May. Precipitation came just in time to bring a good crop.

Predicting weather in some ways parallels predicting prices. The key to success is in guessing correctly, whether volatility is a change in trends or just a short-term event. Personally, I could use a little warm weather for the next month or so. However, I do not want a return to the conditions of 1974 or the 1950s. Making management decisions to take advantage of good growing conditions or good prices without suffering from weather or price risk will be the key. It will not be easy!

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