Drought still remains a big worry for some areas
This year’s winter should be favorable for U.S. and South American crops, but pockets of drought remain a concern in the U.S.
"A lot of the model guidance is leaning in the direction of an El Niño maybe late in 2014," says Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist. "But that won’t influence conditions this winter, and it’s too early to speculate how it could affect crops later this summer."
With El Niño only a distant concern, the winter outlook is primarily favorable for crops.
A cold start. "We got a good kick-start to winter with cold and stormy conditions," Rippey says.
The National Weather Service predicts the upper Midwest and northern Plains will likely have a colder-than-normal winter season. An atypical weather system over the northern Pacific drove the jet stream south in early January, bringing in the coldest temperatures in nearly a decade across most of the country.
Drought not over. "The drought has been halved since its peak in 2012," Rippey says. "Currently, about 30% of the country remains in drought, though." Three areas of concern are California and the Southwest, West Texas and the lower Southeast.
California and the Southwest could enter their third year of drought if conditions do not improve. The past two years of drought have taken a toll.
"If California and the Southwest go through another dry winter, they could have serious water concerns," he notes.
West Texas is already in its third year of drought, and winter wheat crops are suffering. While West Texas is ground zero, this area of drought extends into Oklahoma, western Nebraska and Kansas, and eastern Colorado.
The lower Southeast, which consists of the south Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coast, had a wet 2013 but has turned dry in the past 60 to 90 days.
"The lower Southeast could be short on soil moisture heading into spring," Rippey notes.
Elsewhere, topsoil moisture will be in good shape heading into spring planting season. Dryness this summer could be a problem, particularly in the parts of Iowa where subsoils are dry.
- February 2014