Martell: Snow and Cold Threatens Spring Planting, Benefits High Plains Wheat Area

March 25, 2013 05:48 AM

The following content was provided by meteorologist Gail Martell of 

Frozen Fields Persist in a Cold March

Cold March temperatures and snow have encouraged frozen field conditions over a broad area of the northern United States. Frozen field conditions affect the northern half of the Corn Belt presently, very unusual in late March. The "Arctic Oscillation" is to blame, as it strengthened last week.

Cold March Temperatures US Heartland

Conditions are expected to remain abnormally cold the next few days in the U.S. heartland, but predicted to warm by the Easter weekend. Illinois may experience highs in the 50s and even 60s F by Saturday and Sunday. The 6-10 day forecast is colder again, as the Arctic Oscillation swings back into the negative, cold phase.

6 10 Day Forecast Cold Again

The persistent cold points to planting delays for northern spring wheat, where a thick snowpack still persists. First snow must melt, then fields need to dry out, finally warming up sufficiently for planting to begin.

Heavy Snow Aids Kansas-Colorado Winter Wheat

A powerful storm developed Saturday and brought heavy snow to the High Plains -- a key wheat and cattle feedlot area. Colorado received .40 - 1 inch of equivalent snow water. Lighter amounts .25 - .50 inch of snow-melt occurred in Nebraska and northwest Kansas.

7 Day Precip Forecast

A stormy March has put a dent in what is termed "exceptional drought" in the Central Great Plains. The heavy weekend snow is a drop in the bucket, when melted rapidly disappearing into parched fields. Wheat prospects are relatively better in the southern Great Plains from heavier precipitation from 2 major winter storms. Another round of heavy precipitation is coming to the Southern Great Plains that would further boost wheat potential.

The weekend snowstorm that began on the High Plains traveled east across Nebraska into the Midwest. The Sunday night radar showed a swirl of heavy precipitation, mostly snow, in the Eastern Midwest. This was the latest in a series of winter weather disturbances in the corn belt.

Though surplus precipitation has developed, a good portion has run off frozen fields into streams and ditches. The National Drought Monitor shows improvement in the western corn states but drought is still not resolved. The Mississippi River the main shipping route for grain barges to export markets rose 5-6 feet.

Growers would welcome strong warming to begin the process of thawing frozen fields. Planting normally begins in late April or early May in corn and spring wheat.

Planting Delays Feared in Northern Spring Wheat

Northern wheat farms in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota are in jeopardy for serious planting delays. Four to 9 inches of snow water is contained a thick snow pack. The Red River is expected to flood again this spring, due to a massive snow melt. Widespread flooding last occurred in 2011 with virtually identical conditions, heavy snow and persistent cold.

Frozen Fields Northern United States

As snow gradually melted fields began sodden snow water, causing very serious delays in spring wheat planting. Just 34% of wheat was sown by May 22, compared to 85% normally. Not all wheat got planted, as the clock ran out on safe seeding dates. The wheat yield finished poorly in a rainy summer beset with disease. Hard red spring wheat production ultimately lost 40% of production. This is the United States second biggest wheat state behind Kansas.


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