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Dry cycle may be on the horizon

Statistics suggest a very dry correction is coming, and it’s actually already started in a third of the United States.

Weather, trade wars, and a global pandemic haven’t been kind to American farmers in recent years, but there are some very big changes on the horizon with the weather that will help but also hurt.  

The United States as a whole has experienced seven wetter-than-average years in a row (2013-2019) – and that’s only happened twice in the past 125 years and has never happened eight years in a row. Statistics alone suggest a very dry correction is coming, and it’s actually already started for 35% of the U.S. as of late May 2020. 

In May of 2019, the U.S. experienced the least drought-like conditions in several decades with just 9% of the U.S. having dry conditions (see chart below). The Weathertrends360 FarmCast outlook suggests this dry trend will expand to 50% of the U.S. in 2020 and even drier into 2021.

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Looking at the long-term ocean cycles, there are three that are teaming up together that further support a major correction in the U.S. weather pattern going from wet to very dry. The first is a moderate La Niña taking shape now in the Equatorial Pacific, where the waters have cooled significantly from the warm El Niño-like conditions of recent years. La Ninas tend to make the U.S. drier but when combined with two other ocean cycles – called the 30-year Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) negative (cold) cycle and the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO) positive (warm) cycle – the odds increase dramatically for a prolonged 12- to 18-month dry to drought-like scenario for 50% to 60% of the U.S.

Another factor is the reduction in global pollution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially sulfuric acid from power plants and automobiles. Pollution actually blocks in-bound solar radiation, keeping the world cooler; with reduced pollution, the risk for hotter and drier weather is possible.

Factoring in trillions upon trillions of statistics and 24 climate cycles, the news for American farmers is mixed: Drought-like conditions are likely to increase, which can ultimately mean much higher commodity prices in 2021. That’s the good news. The bad news, however, is that some farmers would have lower yields and be unable to capitalize on the more favorable macroeconomic conditions.

The balance of the 2020 season looks to be favorable with ample soil moisture during planting, getting crops off to a better start, but a drying trend will continue through the 2020 harvest. According to the Weathertrends360 FarmCast outlook, the harvest season is likely to be the warmest in three years with above-average temperatures and the driest in five years, with well-below-average rainfall and snowfall across the Corn Belt. Frost and freezes are likely to be much later than typical with no threat to maturing crops.

For agricultural interests outside the Corn Belt, there is very high risk for significant crop losses along the North Central Gulf Coast, Florida (citrus), and even New England with upwards of 20 named tropical systems, several likely to make landfall in the U.S. When these cycles team up, historically, the U.S. has a devastating hurricane season.

Winter will be colder than last year’s very warm and not so snowy winter with a couple of polar vortex outbreaks in early January and late February. Snowfall is again likely to be below average for a majority of the Corn Belt with expanding dry conditions.

Finally, spring 2021 planting looks to be the driest in six years, with below-average soil moisture across much of the Corn Belt; setting the stage for a very interesting, but challenging, 2021 season.

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Bill Kirk is CEO of Weathertrends360. A FarmCast subscription for forecasts looking out up to 365 days can be found for $399 a year at https://wt360.com/ag.

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