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Weather update shows little change for next three months

The Midwest has slight chance at above-normal precipitation totals for the next three months.

As corn planting starts to pick up in the southern half of the Corn Belt, the 2020 season slightly lags behind the five-year average for most states. 

The good news for farmers who’ve started or are about to start is the weather projects to be good enough the next couple of months to allow fieldwork.

The Climate Prediction Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an updated long-lead outlook for the U.S. on Thursday.

The adjustments to the outlook weren’t too groundbreaking, but it did reveal an equal chance of above- or below-average temperature for the central and western part of the Midwest, while the eastern side has a slightly higher chance of warmer temperatures over May, June, and July.

Meanwhile, the three-month look showed about a 40% chance of above-average rain totals for a majority of the region. The May outlook offers an equal chance at above or below temperatures for the entire Corn Belt and a 33% or higher chance of above-average precipitation for the south and western portions of the Midwest.

While the odds slightly favor above-average precipitation for most spots, the update presents a similar outlook as previous months. Successful Farming magazine talked with the USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director Dennis Todey to breakdown the latest update as farmers start to plant.

May Outlook

After last week’s rain and snow that ran from west to east through the heart of the Midwest, Todey expected temperatures to recover into this week. Looking ahead, though, Todey says some cold could return in early May.

“The progress from here will be fits and starts,” Todey says. “There’s going to be windows, but there’s going to be some cold. The outlooks for May were not great, but they were not bad. The equal chances for temperature really reflects some uncertainty in the outlook for what May is going to bring.”

Todey also notes that the slight chance of above average precipitation is noteworthy, but he emphasizes that the probabilities are still small.

While it may not be a factor under typical conditions, when you add the context of 2019 and its wetness, it carries more weight than normal.

“They’re not indications that we’re going to get really wet,” Todey says. “That’s good, but we still do have wet soils, so additional precipitation is going to add problems. Fortunately, we’re not as bad as last year, but we’re still not great at this point.

“Planting progress and fieldwork should be able to move on, but again, it’s going to be sporadic – there’s going to be windows, so we’re going to be on and off throughout the month of May, I expect.”

Plant Damage

While Midwest corn and soybeans missed out on the recent cold spell in April and it will affect ground condition more for those crops, other plants weren’t as fortunate. Crops outside of corn and soybeans were also affected from the drop in temperature that also reached southern part of the region, too.

“We’re still assessing the overall impact of this cold on winter wheat, alfalfa, some pastures, some grasses, and specialty crops,” Todey says. “People who do food crops or other specialty crops, we were cold enough that we’ve done some damage all across the Corn Belt area.

“Probably the worst part was the southern Corn Belt where things were further along. Even though temperatures didn’t get as cold in that area, things were further along, so there’s more chance of doing damage. It sounds like winter wheat is probably taking a bit of a hit. We’re still determining how much that is.”

Other issues involve tree fruits and potentially some horticultural plants, says Todey. 

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