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Warmth Hurts Northern Corn Belt Ground Conditions

North Dakota projects to stay mostly dry, while Wisconsin and Michigan see more rain.

In early October, most farmers scanned forecasts, hoping for warmer temperatures to push the late-planted crops toward maturity and dry out crops and fields.

Instead, most of the Midwest experienced a cooler October. The National Centers for Environmental Information released data to the USDA, showing October 2019 ranks as the 21st-coldest October since 1895. 

November started in a similar fashion with temperatures across the Midwest plummeting, but the region avoided the heavy precipitation that October experienced.

Now, temperatures kick upward as December approaches. Since the halfway point of the month, areas in the Midwest reached the 40s consistently with some spots hitting 50°F. or higher.

The higher temperatures received a warm welcome from many in the Midwest, but farmers wrapping up a late harvest could battle another weather challenge.

North Dakota

The USDA put North Dakota in the spotlight in terms of corn harvest. The top 18 corn-producing states check in at 76% complete in the latest crop progress report, but North Dakota drags down the percentage, contributing a total of 23% completion – 16% behind the next closest state.

Mostly dry conditions project to spread across the state in the short term, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Dale Mohler.

“Up there, the forecast is not too bad,” Mohler says. “There’s this one period of time [Wednesday], there could be a little light snow across there – maybe an inch or two. Other than that, it’s a pretty dry pattern in North Dakota, and that includes through the weekend and well into next week.”

Mohler notes that a potential storm could shift north through the Midwest and push some snow into the state late next week, but he expects the storm to stay far enough east and avoid the area. The storm forecasts to start in the southern Plains before traveling toward the Great Lakes.

Wisconsin and Michigan

These two states fare better than North Dakota in terms of harvest progress, but Wisconsin and Michigan face a more turbulent late November.

The storm that appears to start in the southern Plains and jump to the Great Lakes projects to impact Wisconsin and Michigan.

“I think most likely, almost for sure, both those states would be impacted,” Mohler says about Wisconsin and Michigan. “In Michigan, it’s probably rain. In Wisconsin, it could be either rain or snow, and that’s the middle of next week.”

Before that potential storm, precipitation looks to fall later this week. Wednesday [November 20] and Thursday are scheduled to drop rain on Wisconsin and Michigan. Mohler expects .5 inch to 1 inch of rain to fall on the two states during Wednesday and Thursday. In next week’s storm, Michigan could see 1 inch to 1.5 inches of rain, while Wisconsin could experience 1 inch of rain and some snow, according to Mohler.

Ground Condition

North Dakota lucks out with drier conditions than Wisconsin and Michigan, but the three states all expect an uptick in temperature.

With the increase, Mohler expects the ground to thaw out from the frigid early November, allowing some softness in fields. 

“I guess there’s one maybe slight piece of bad news [for North Dakota], and that is that it was cold last week and the ground froze, but now it’s been a little milder,” Mohler says. “Temperatures have been getting above freezing, and it’s going to stay relatively mild, meaning a lot of daytime highs will be in the 40s.”

Mohler points out the regular temperature at this time of year for North Dakota is a high around 36°F. with a low of 19°F., meaning temperatures could climb 6°F. to 10°F. above average.

For Wisconsin and Michigan, Mohler figures the two states will see higher temperatures than North Dakota with worse ground conditions.

“Wisconsin and Michigan, they’re south of North Dakota’s latitude, so they’ll be even milder,” Mohler says. “They’ll be mostly in the 40s, maybe even some low 50s once in a while. There won’t be any frozen ground in there anymore, it’s warming up enough. The ground will be soft. They’ve had precipitation; they’ve had melting snow. It’s certainly not ideal the farther south and east you go because they’ve had more precipitation recently, and they will have more in the future than what North Dakota will have.”

With these three states already lagging behind average for harvest, according to the USDA, and soggy conditions expected, December conditions become more important. 

Mohler says he still projects early December to be a little stormier than normal.