A harvest full of hurricanes

Warm and dry conditions in the Corn Belt for harvest, but hurricanes plague the coasts.

The 2020 fall harvest season will continue the hot/dry weather pattern that’s developing in the United States due, in part, to an emerging La Niña cycle, among others. 

La Niña is simply a recurring oceanic cycle of cooler than typical equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures that alters the weather patterns around North and South America, typically bringing drier conditions. This is a significant change from the prolonged El Niño cycle – warmer than average equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures – that dominated 2018 and 2019, resulting in near record wet years across the U.S. Corn Belt.

By early summer this year, 45% of the country was already in dry to drought-like phases, up from a historic low of 8% in 2019. This dry trend is likely to expand and continue across the United States and Canada well into spring 2021.

The 2019 harvest season was the second wettest in over 35 years, with early snows making it the snowiest in 28 years across the Corn Belt. A complete change in the weather pattern this year will bring a much-needed reprieve for farmers across the Corn Belt and Upper Plains, providing a break from the seemingly endless weather woes the past couple of years.

Fall precipitation across much of the Corn Belt and Upper Plains is expected to be the driest in five years. It is also likely to be the warmest in at least three years, with above-average temperatures with little, if any, snow to contend with, making for a much faster harvest season than is typical.   See "Dry cycle may be on the horizon.")

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However, hard-hit drought areas in the Southern Rocky Mountains and Southern Plains may get minor relief this fall with briefly much wetter conditions than a year ago, yet this will not be enough to end the more severe drought in the region. Drought is likely to expand across the United States well into 2021.

Now the Bad News

The nation will very likely see the most active and devastating Atlantic hurricane season in 15 years with many cycles and statistics teaming up to suggest a season more like 2005, 2012, and 2016. These years all got off to a very fast start with four named systems by early July, and 2020 is off to an even faster start with five named storms by early July. This makes it the fastest start to five named storms since records started 169 years ago.  

You will recall the big hurricanes in those memorable seasons with the names of Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012), and Matthew (2016), bringing devastation and a combined $202 billion in damage.

The WeatherTrends year-ahead hurricane outlook issued last fall for the 2020 season indicated at least 20 named storms, 11 of which would become hurricanes. In that total would be five major hurricanes (Category 3 winds 111 mph to 157 mph) threatening the United States. Three hurricane strikes are likely, in the August-to-October time frame.  

These threats are particularly complicating for emergency management officials needing to figure out how to shelter millions from coastlines with the added concern of COVID-19.

Be safe out there and have a great harvest! 

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Bill Kirk is CEO of WeatherTrends360. A FarmCast subscription for forecasts looking out up to 365 days can be found at wt360.com/ag for $399 a year.ww

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