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Is Old Man Winter losing his grip?

Jeff Caldwell 03/03/2014 @ 2:08pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's been the coldest start to March since as long as weather data's been tracked in some parts of the Midwest. But, the subzero and single-digit temperatures may be on their way toward moderating to more seasonal levels, forecasters say as the week begins.

Monday started out not much better than the frigid weekend in many locations in corn and soybean country; Harvey Freese of Freese-Notis Weather in Des Moines, Iowa, said Monday the temperatures were struggling to get into double digits, but that changed as the day unfolded. And, that's going to continue through the week, including some major temperature moderation in the Plains.

"Tuesday and beyond, temperatures across the central US will be rather changeable, although a significant moderation trend is in store as our jet stream becomes both more zonal and progressive. This more spring-like jet stream configuration will send temperatures across the Plains soaring into the 60s Wednesday with 20s, 30s, and some 40s across the Midwest," Freese says. "Thursday southern and western portions of the Corn Belt will see temperatures rising into the 40s and even 50s (Which is near normal for this time of year) before another colder push of air enters northwestern areas Friday night into Saturday. By week's end, another round of warmer temperatures is in store for the Midwest with the potential for a very Spring-like start to next week."

Though he says it's basically speculation at this point, there are models that point to a shift in the trend that's kept much of the country in the deepfreeze most of the winter.

"Will this warmer pattern last for any length of time or is another record-breaking blast of cold air waiting for us down the road? Based on...a slowly moderating Arctic Oscillation, our teleconnections do favor somewhat of a sustained moderation trend, in addition to weak central U.S. ridging as our long-range models are currently advertising," Freese says. "With more confidence, I can say that the likelihood of another winterkill event is very low based off of this moderation trend and the fact that sub-zero low temperatures are increasingly difficult to achieve as we approach spring."

The bitterly cold temperatures do appear to be ending, but the trend the other direction is going to take a while to unfold, adds MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. And the implications of how slowly the trend unfolds could be major for at least some Midwestern farmers.

"It will warm up a bit through the week into the weekend and early next week, although it will be a very slow warmup. Looks like it gets above freezing by Thursday, then all the way up to 45 by next Monday. Guess everyone will be walking around in shorts and the convertibles will have their tops down," Keeney says. "Spring does indeed look quite cool, especially across the northern Plains and northwestern Midwest. There will certainly be some planting delays due to the cool soil temps."

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