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Weather Outlook: Cold Will Pass, Expect Better Planting Weather in Mid-April

If you’ve been itching to get in the field, the bad news is you’ll be waiting a bit longer. The good news is conditions will improve over the next week.

For the weekend, the Midwest will stay chilly with high temperatures forecast at 10°F. to 20°F. below the average, according to the National Weather Service. A freeze watch has also been issued for much of eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

That cold weather, along with periodic precipitation, will linger for the next week across most of the Midwest, according to Dan Hicks of Freese-Notis Weather. “Soil temperatures will be too cool to allow much fieldwork,” he says.

However, there are a few exceptions to this. “We’ve had the lightest amount of precipitation and warmer temperatures in Nebraska, eastern Kansas, and Missouri, so farmers in these areas have the best chance to get in the field,” says Hicks.

Despite April’s cool start, the forecast for the second half of the month indicates a warmer temperature pattern with normal rainfall.

“Starting late next week, conditions will improve to warmer temperatures,” says Hicks. “We’ll have normal rainfall, so not a long dry spell or an unusually wet spring, but enough rain to slow fieldwork down.” 

Little Relief from Rain in the South

Wet weather in March has kept corn planting well behind the average pace in the major corn-producing states in the South, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Louisiana has 46% complete, compared to the five-year average of 82%; Arkansas sits at 31% vs. a 36% five-year average; and Mississippi has 19% of corn planting done, compared with the 49% five-year average, according to the USDA’s first Crop Progress Report.

With better conditions and less rainfall, this area had a bit of relief this week that should carry through the weekend. “This might open up the planting window for some Southern farmers,” says Hicks. “However, a lot of the fields were so wet that it will take a long time for them to dry out.”

On top of that, it looks like the Delta area could get another substantial amount of rainfall early next week. After that, the weather pattern returns to normal, which still may bring too much rain to allow for fieldwork.

“Many areas don’t have the capacity to absorb more moisture, so even normal rainfall may keep planting behind the normal pace,” explains Hicks.

Rain Forecast for Western Plains

While the South has been too wet, western Kansas and eastern Colorado are in need of a good rain for the winter wheat crop. 

“There will be some light rain in those areas this weekend into Monday,” says Hicks. “Late next week, there are some opportunities for better rains in the driest areas, and we may start to see an overall improvement.”

Will La Niña Arrive Earlier than Expected?

“The decay of El Niño and the onset of La Niña, the cold phase of tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperatures, are occurring more rapidly than it would appear,” Reuters said in a report on Tuesday. The report points to several key atmospheric and oceanic variables that signal the switch. 

In addition, one of the only major climate models that was predicting a continuation of El Niño had an error that was skewing the results. Once the error was fixed in the Climate Forecast System Version 2 model, also known as CFSv2, it switched from predicting El Niño through 2016 to forecasting a healthy La Niña by July.

What does that mean for the 2016 growing season? La Niña typically brings dry and hot summer weather, although there isn’t a 100% correlation, as Hicks points out. “If you look at all of the summers in which we’ve had La Niña, there’s a tendency for Midwest temperatures to be above normal and for some areas to be drier than normal,” he says. “But there are exceptions like in 1998 when we had a weaker La Niña and a really wet summer.

“While we could have a weak La Niña by August, in my opinion, La Niña has to be around for a certain amount of time before you feel its affects in world weather,” he adds. “I don’t think it will happen fast enough this year to be a major factor in Midwest weather for the 2016 growing season.”

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