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Warm Corn Belt weekend to create thawing, possible ice jams

Rainfall is projected to follow the increase in temperature.

After a rough 2019 for most farmers in the Corn Belt, a warm spring without frequent, heavy rains could jump-start the 2020 season.

Some of those conditions will arrive this weekend. Midwesterners eagerly await the upcoming weekend when temperatures are projected to blanket the region with warmth.

Read more: The U.S. 2020 corn planting season has kicked off in Texas

7-Day Outlook

From north to south, the Midwest can expect an increase in temperature on Saturday and Sunday, ranging from the 40s to the 60s depending on the location, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Dale Mohler.

“I think a lot of places over the weekend across the north [Corn Belt] will be in the 40s and low 50s – that’s the Dakotas through Wisconsin,” Mohler says. “That’s pretty mild for those areas; they’re normally still in the 30s this time of year. Farther south, get down toward St. Louis [and] those areas, temperatures could be up near 70°F. A normal high for St. Louis on this day is about 50°F., so we’re talking about 10°F. or 20°F. above normal over a good chunk of the Midwest this weekend.”

While the rise in temperature should assist thawing, Mohler says not to expect too strong of evaporation in the Corn Belt. 

Mohler says it could pick up a little bit, but the bulk of spring evaporation occurs in the second half of the season with temperatures jumping into the 70s and 80s.

Evaporation won’t play too big of a role this weekend, but thawing should take place with the rise in temperature. 

“I think there’s enough warmth this weekend that you would thaw farther down below the 4-inch line,” Mohler says. “A lot of that frost will be out of the topsoil by early next week. It doesn’t take all that long if it’s fairly shallow, and it has not been a cold winter. I would think a lot of the frost would be out of the ground in the next week or two.”

Unfortunately for the southeastern portion of the region, the temperature climb will be followed by a solid rain early on next week.

“We are expecting a pretty big storm to come out of the southern Plains Tuesday and Wednesday of next week that could bring a really soaking rain to a good chunk of the southeast half of the Midwest – from Kansas City to Milwaukee on south and east,” Mohler says. “You could get a couple inches of rain Tuesday night and Wednesday as this big storm comes out of the southern Plains. It’s going to bypass the northwest corner – just a few snow showers up there as it turns colder.” 

With the northwest Corn Belt staying dry and the other half receiving rain, Mohler expects this to stay consistent in the month of March.

Read more: Spring Corn Belt flooding concerns persist before planting season

March Outlook

On February 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its March temperature and precipitation outlooks.

The department predicts the Midwest will stay below average in terms of precipitation, and portions of Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and the Dakotas show an equal chance of being above or below average.

For Mohler, he follows a similar outlook as his views on the early part of March.

“I could see the northwest half of the Midwest being a little drier than normal,” Mohler says. “I think the southeast, though, is likely to be at least normal if not a little bit above. I think there is a difference from northwest to southeast, whereas the southeast a little wetter and the northwest is drier. I’m in agreement that the northwest is drier, but not on the southeast.”

Read more: Oversold soybean market turns higher Thursday

Ice Jams

Throughout February, the Midwest also has seen temperatures reach warmer levels at times, generating some thawing in the region.

While most welcomed the warmth, it did create some problems, and the upcoming weekend could see some, too.

Earlier this month, the Platte River dealt with ice jams, affecting areas in Nebraska, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Des Moines also tweeted about possible ice jams building up in Iowa.

Mohler agrees with the agency, saying it’s worth monitoring.

“With temperatures warming this weekend, a lot of the ice is going to break up,” Mohler says. “When you have ice breakup, you also have the risk of ice jams. They’re greatest at the front edge of the thaw, which will be this weekend. Probably through Monday, you’re at risk to see some ice jams here and there. As the week wears on, I think the risk goes down.”

Mohler says it’s hard to tell how large of an impact an ice jam could have, but one forming in the wrong spot could turn into a major problem.

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