Martell: Midwest Snowpack Melting, Fields Slowly Warming

April 1, 2013 06:47 AM

The following content was provided by meteorologist Gail Martell of 

Midwest Snowpack Melting, Fields Slowly Warming

Strong warming over Easter weekend has caused snow to melt and recede northward. Northern corn states Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin still have a significant snowpack, but the rest of the Midwest is now exposed. Corn Belt field temperatures are 30-37 F in the north to upper 30s-low 40s F south. Fields must be at least 52 F for corn seeds to germinate.

Soil Temperatures April 1

Strengthening solar rays and lengthening daylight hours are having a positive impact causing gradual warming that thaws frozen fields. Yet the forecast is cooler-than-normal again this week. Persistent coolness is due to the Arctic Oscillation (AO) in the negative, cold phase. March temperatures were among the coldest on record in the Midwest.

Precipitation was reduced in the U.S. heartland due to cold dry Arctic air masses plunging one after another into the Midwest and Upper Great Plains.

Hard Red Winter Wheat Needs Rain

Wheat conditions have worsened in Kansas, Oklahoma and West Texas. The late March crop report showed 27% good-excellent, 39% fair and 34% poor-very poor in the 3 top bread-wheat states. Rain is badly needed to supply growing crop needs, as jointing is well under way, the rapid vertical growth stage. A few wheat farms are heading in the southern Plains.

March Dryness So Great Plains

Field moisture improved in February with back-to-back snow storms but March weather was dry. The High Plains especially saw a sharp decline in crop potential with less than half of normal monthly rainfall.

The new forecast is hopeful for light-moderate rainfall this week in the southern Great Plains. The southern jet stream is becoming more active. Morning radar shows light to moderate showers developing in Oklahoma and Texas where .50-.1-inch rains are predicted. Kansas is expecting moderate-heavy rain also, but only in the southern wheat growing areas.

Wet Forecast So Great Plains

Freeze Forecast Lifted

Cloudiness and showers would prevent a hard freeze from developing on the High Plains tonight, as originally forecast last Friday. That said, cold rain mixed with wet snow is possible at higher elevations. The main story in wheat is increasing precipitation that would improve crop prospects. Jointing wheat would greatly benefit from moderate-heavy precipitation in the jointing stage.

Spring Wheat Planting Delays Feared

A thick, wet snowpack still persists in North Dakota and western Minnesota on April, pointing to delayed fieldwork and planting. North Dakota growers last week projected a April 22 starting date for fieldwork, 11 days earlier than 2011, which was historically late. Fields were still sodden with heavy snowmelt in May of 2011, leading to delayed crop development and ultimately, a poor yield.

Spring wheat production needs to be abundant, in order to offset what is expected to be a disappointing harvest of hard red winter wheat from fall drought. Very dry planting conditions October-December were not offset by increased winter precipitation. Soil profiles are still dry through a deep layer.

Wheat chances for recovery, after a dry fall planting period, are not good. We found only one instance of major improvement, resulting in a productive harvest, after a very dry fall seeding period.

Emerging El Nino?

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center anticipates a very wet weather pattern in the 6-10 day forecast. The northwest two-thirds of the United States would have an excellent chance for heavy rainfall, but the southern U.S. is looking dry in the new forecast.

The sudden shift toward a wet weather pattern may be due to an emerging El Nino signal. Temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean have been steadily warming in recent weeks, signaling a move away from La Nina and toward El Nino. In the U.S. Great Plains, the El Nino effect causes heavy rainfall. The western Corn Belt would also get a good chance for heavy precipitation in the long-range forecast.

More good news: The 6-10 day forecast also is warm in the United States. This would be very good news for thawing fields and promoting more timely planting. Warmth goes hand-in-hand with a strengthening El Nino signal.


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