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A little moisture, but not enough

Jeff Caldwell 12/05/2012 @ 8:59am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though it's far from the shift that's needed in much of the nation, a move toward more moisture in some locations is a bit of relief in what is shaping up to be one of the driest starts to winter in decades.

Start in the southern Midwest, mid-South and Delta, where the chances for moisture in the next few days are the best for up to the next two weeks. Scattered showers in the next couple of days will likely unfurl into more frequent rains there, but that damp pattern will struggle to get much farther north than Interstate 70, weather watchers say.

"Showers finally returned to the southeastern Midwest and Delta yesterday, and additional showers are expected there this weekend into next week," Don Keeney, senior ag meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather, said on Wednesday morning. "This will help improve soil moisture supplies and river levels. However, precipitation will be rather light in the northwestern Midwest, and will likely fall as snow."

The farther west that precipitation stretches, the lighter it will likely be, adds Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., ag meteorologist Craig Solberg.

"Some spotty rainshowers are forecast for Thursday night and Friday into the early part of the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, a mixture of rain and/or snow could begin over some areas of northern Kansas and eastern Nebraska as well as southern Iowa and northwestern Missouri with rain more likely for southeast Iowa and eastern Missouri as well as Illinois and Indiana. Moisture is going to be light in the west with some .25"+ amounts and heavier the farther east into Illinois and Indiana," Solberg says, adding that moisture will be ushered along by more seasonable temperatures unlike the last few days when it's felt more like spring than late fall in much of the Plains and Midwest.

In fact, the warmth that's been circulating around the nation's center is causing some records to fall. Data from MDA shows that temperatures have been above average in all but the far northwestern reaches of the contiguous U.S., and this has 2012 poised to be the warmest year on record, according to a Wednesday report from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

"While some brief and very cold weather this fall cast some doubt on whether 2012 would finish the warmest year on record for Des Moines, our recent stretch of very warm December weather has closed the deal," the report says Wednesday. "The featured chart presents our current year-to-date average temperature along with the current record of 1931. Each of the spaghetti lines represent a previous year's data projected onto the end of this year."

Ultimately, the latest weather pattern won't be enough to either boost dangerously low water levels in the Mississippi River system, nor will they help provide much moisture relief to the parched wheat crop that's headed into dormancy. But at least the warmer-than-normal weather lately has put off a common problem for the already-stressed winter wheat crop in the Plains.

"Notable drought relief remains unlikely through midmonth in the northwestern Midwest and Plains, and the six- to 10-day trended drier for Southern Plains wheat," according to a Wednesday report from the Commodity Weather Group LLC. "Much of the Plains wheat is poorly established, but there are no winterkill threats over the next two weeks for wheat areas."

Though the low threat level for winterkill is good news, the bad news is the changing weather pattern will likely send wheat into dormancy fairly soon, and do so without much hope to boost vital root structures through moisture.

"Colder temperatures are also expected across the Plains this weekend and next week, which should push wheat there into dormancy also," Keeney adds. "Precipitation will remain too limited to significantly improve moisture for the wheat."

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