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Better Crop Weather En Route ... With Exceptions

Growing expectations that El Niño will be swinging back around and exerting its influence on North American weather are starting to materialize as a longer-term forecast for the summer. That forecast shows some areas will see major changes while others - namely those where farmers and ranchers are facing the toughest conditions - will stay about the same as they've been the last couple of years.

The most dramatic changes, forecasters agree, will come in parts of the Plains. That region's seen some serious drought over the last two to three years - not the worst in the nation - and at least through the early stages of summer, the central Plains should see some relief in the form of cooler-than-normal temperatures and areas of improved rainfall, which are expected to take at least a small bite out of the drought gripping the region.

"The latest 31- to 60-day temperature outlook has trended cooler in the central Plains and western Midwest. The continued cool conditions in the northeastern Plains and Midwest will maintain low heat threats to corn and soybeans," says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. "The precipitation outlook has trended wetter in the central Plains and northern Delta, but it's a bit drier in the north-central and northwestern Midwest and northwestern Prairies."

An area from about the Colorado-Kansas state border, south to central Texas and stretching to the East Coast should see higher-than-normal precipitation levels from June to August, according to a summer-long forecast released by Commodity Weather Group this week. This will help ease drought conditions in some areas, but the El Niño-fueled moisture chances likely will fall well short of knocking the region out of drought status.

"The main adjustment to our summer outlook was to show a more energetic storm track coming into the western U.S., with the wettest weather generally tracking from the central/northern Rockies into the central/southeast Plains, southern Midwest, and Delta around a ridge in the southwest Plains," according to CWG. "The net change is wetter south and drier/cooler north compared to our previous forecast."

That ridge is the bad news; precipitation maps generally show almost a dome around the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, southwestern Kansas, and southeastern Colorado, a region that's felt the most severe heat and drought pressure in the Plains in the last three years. That dome - combined with expected above-normal temperatures - will continue to hamper that region's crop and pasture potential. And it may move northeast, comprising a potential double-edged sword for the Corn Belt.

"The warmest conditions appear likely to focus on the front end of the summer in the Midwest, which would largely aid crop growth," according to CWG. "While occasional extensions of heat from the southern Plains are possible in the southwest Midwest into July as well, sustained heat is not expected. Given the active storm track, favorable moisture supplies should also help to keep any corn/soy stress limited. Drier areas in the northern Midwest will also be the most likely to be cooler than average as crop moisture needs increase."

That moisture will eventually make its way south into the Delta, Keeney says. But by late July, it could be trailed by drier air that will eventually make its way toward the nation's center from the already-parched West Coast, where conditions are expected to stay on the dry side through much of the summer.

"The wetter trend in the Plains will continue to replenish moisture, and rains in the Delta and southwestern Midwest will maintain moisture for corn and soybeans. However, some slight dryness may develop in the northern and eastern Midwest corn and soybean areas. Also, some dryness may develop in the northern Plains and Prairies spring Wheat Belt," Keeney says. "Dryness will continue across the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest."

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