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Freak May snow extends fieldwork delay

Jeff Caldwell 05/02/2013 @ 9:03am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's May, and it's snowing in much of the nation's center. That's not a typo. It's snowing.

Just hours after conditions were starting to help crack open the planting weather window, farmers face the teeth of what will likely amount to another fieldwork delay as a major system stretching from southern Texas to Hudson Bay in Canada moves eastward through the nation, dropping rain and snow and driving down temperatures. Southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, for example, have received between 10 and 16 inches of snow and on Wednesday, there was a 48-degree temperature difference between Burlington (82 degrees) and Sioux City, Iowa (34 degrees).

"May Day felt more like Mother Nature yelling 'mayday' as very cold air along with snow entered the state," according to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet (IEM) on Thursday. "The cold front still bisected the state by mid-afternoon on Wednesday leaving the far eastern portions in the warm air. Temperatures soared well into the 80s while northwest Iowa was near freezing."


The good news is that temperatures in much of the Corn Belt are warm enough that the falling snow won't live long on the ground before melting. In fact, much of the existing snow in the northern Plains and Midwest saw a major meltdown because of warmer-than-normal temperatures earlier in the week. Still, temperatures are expected to remain below normal, on average, for the next few days, says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Kyle Tapley.

"Warm temperatures last weekend and the first half of this week melted a large portion of the deep snow pack across south-central Canada and the northern Plains, with some areas losing 20 to 30 inches of snow cover in a few days. Temperatures have since turned much colder, and snow has returned to the central Plains and northwestern Midwest," Tapley says. "Nebraska, northwestern Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, and northwestern Wisconsin have already seen 3 to 10 inches of snow, with more on the way today and tomorrow. These snow totals are unprecedented for early May in most areas, but the new snow should melt quickly."

Snow's silver lining

That may sound ridiculous as snow falls in early May, but there is a silver lining to the moisture, and that's the continued paring-back of the drought conditions in the central U.S. The line dividing the area under some moisture shortfall now essentially traces a line near Interstate 35 from Minnesota to the far southwestern corner of Missouri, with land east of that line virtually drought-free, according to Thursday's update of the U.S. Drought Monitor.


"Drought conditions declined slightly this past week, with 46.9% of the contiguous U.S. under long-term drought, compared to 47.34% last week. The improvements were largely found across the western Midwest, eastern Plains, and northern Delta," Tapley says. "Conditions should continue to improve this week, with widespread precipitation forecast across the central Plains and central and western Midwest. Drier conditions across the northern Plains and Pacific Northwest may allow for some minor increase in drought conditions, however."


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