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.
South America. Weather in the crop-growing regions of Brazil and Argentina is also positive for the most part.
"The moisture situation is very favorable this year in Brazil," says Mark Brusberg, deputy chief meteorologist with USDA. "The bulk of the soybean belt has been getting substantial rain for the past few weeks."
With planting of first-season corn and soybeans basically complete, rains in Brazil are falling at an ideal time.
In Argentina, 66% of the soybeans and 52% of the corn were planted by Dec. 5. While warm temperatures could spur a high evaporation rate, Brusberg says overall conditions in Argentina are mostly promising.
While the current Congress is not known for its bipartisanship, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) hopes to change that with H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013. The bill seeks to redirect National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration resources to invest in "near-term, affordable and attainable advances in observational, computing and modeling capabilities." This comes after multiple deadly weather events that critics say were not predicted early enough to allow for evacuations.
GovTrack.us estimates the bill has a 28% chance of being passed. Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says the bill is flawed, but "a revised bill could greatly improve weather prediction in the U.S. and be supported by both sides of the aisle."