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Neutral Weather Seen for 2017 Crop Season

Current La Niña seen fading in February.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- This year’s U.S. planting season could start out on the drier side, according to Harry Hillaker, Iowa’s state climatologist.

The longtime weather expert told a group of farmers attending the Iowa Power Farming Show that the current La Niña weather pattern is expected to last into the spring planting season.

“It’s different than a year ago when an El Niño weather phenomenon pattern faded before the U.S. crop-growing season with a La Niña pattern not taking over until October. Well, we are still in that same La Niña weather pattern,” Hillaker says.

In general, La Niña weather offerings are drier and cooler patterns for the U.S. corn and soybean growing seasons, with a few years exceptionally hot.

If you need a reminder of what a La Niña can look like at its worst, think 2012.

“The 2012 La Niña event was a much stronger one than this year’s. Plus, we had much drier conditions leading into it than what we are seeing right now,” Hillaker says.

The current models show that this year’s La Niña pattern is not expected to last very long.

“We are expecting the Midwestern weather to turn to neutral for the growing season,” Hillaker says. “Perhaps as early as the end of February, the La Niña could fade. So, the best bet is that the weather would move toward neutral for spring and summer months and probably into next fall, as well.”

So, what does ‘neutral’ weather look and feel like?

“Neutral is more similar to La Niña than El Niño,” Hillaker says. “A little bit of a tendency toward drier and cooler.”

The current official weather outlook for much of the nation calls for a warm/normal spring, above-normal temperatures with average precipitation for the summer followed by a warmer-than-normal fall.

Best Crop Ever, Again?

With last year being the best crop and crop-weather year ever for a lot of farmers, the big question is whether the Midwest can repeat that performance.

Hillaker says to keep in mind that December 2015 was extremely wet for most of the Midwest, creating a great moisture situation for the start of 2016, especially for Iowa.

“Wet planting condition concerns faded in 2016, after a dry April and May. Most of Iowa had close to ideal planting conditions. The point being that Iowa’s wet concerns are similar to 2016, but La Niña could give farmers another opportunity for ideal planting weather.”

Southeast Drought?

The current weather maps show extreme dry conditions in the U.S. Southeast and parts of the Deep South. Experts will certainly be watching that dry pattern for any movement into the Midwest.

“Certainly last year we saw drought-like conditions from the Southeast spread. This year, Arkansas and Oklahoma are at the epicenter, but there is not a big drought footprint right now.”

Hillaker says the larger map models are not showing any black swan weather events.

Historically Speaking

For Iowa, weather records dating back from 1887/1888 through 2015/2016 show that spring temperatures are gradually getting warmer, summers’ average temperature of 71.5°F. is holding steady, and summer precipitation averages of 12.51 inches are holding steady.

It’s interesting to note that the same areas of Iowa (north-central counties) that were the wettest last year are the same counties that have received the most snowfall this winter.   


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