Warming soils across the Corn Belt as spring begins

Warmer-than-normal temperatures expected in spring 2021.

After a long winter with much colder and drier – but snowier – conditions compared with the winter of 2019/2020, spring has finally sprung in the Corn Belt. In fact, the first seven days of astronomical spring (March 20 to March 26) will trend the fourth warmest in 30-plus years for the Corn Belt, according to data from WeatherTrends360. As we move closer to the planting season in the Corn Belt, here are the big questions: Will soils be warm enough for timely planting, and will soil moistures be sufficient?

Predominantly warmer trends through the end of March 2021 suggest that soils should warm nicely through this early spring period. However, the occasional cold front with a burst of below-normal temperatures cannot be ruled out. The greatest risk for short-term, below-normal temperatures will be across the northern Plains and western Corn Belt. More concerning across this area than temperatures, however, is the lack of rainfall that looks set to continue.

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WeatherTrends360 expects rainfall through the end of March 2021 to actually trend above normal for the Corn Belt as a whole. If we examine the trends closer, however, we see that areas of below-normal rainfall are still expected across the northern Plains and western Corn Belt. At first glance, the precipitation trends for the latter part of March indicate some good news for northwest Iowa, where the U.S. Drought Monitor as of March 16 indicates extreme drought. However, any slight shift farther east or south in storm tracks could easily leave this area drier than current forecasts indicate.  

On the bright side, the drier winter across the U.S. Midwest has led to a reduced risk of spring flooding. Recent heavy rains have caused some flooding in the lower Missouri and Ohio River Valleys, but the threat for widespread major flooding is very low. There will be a threat of some heavier rain and severe thunderstorms toward the latter part of the final full week of March, with the entire southern Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley, and Deep South at risk of turbulent weather.

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