The muddy fields of 2015 are inspiring lots of comparisons to other soggy growing seasons, but Ryan Martin says the similarities only go so far.
“We’re getting a lot of years getting thrown out, trying to pin 2015 to some other analogous year,” says Martin, staff meteorologist at Allendale Inc., speaking during Allendale’s Ag Leaders Conference Series. “That’s not going to work here. … There are no comparable years.”
That includes 1993, when flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers caused nearly $15 billion in damage.
“One of the things we’ve been hearing about on the weather side is how people are invoking 1993, with all that rain that fell across the nation’s midsection,” Martin said. “This is not 1993 … It’s not the same setup meteorologically by a long shot.”
How are the two years different? In 1993, the Midwest got literally caught in the middle between three major weather patterns: “warm, moist, unstable airflow coming from the Deep South,” cool and dry air from the Northwest and a “blocking ridge” from the East Coast, according to Martin.
The combination resulted in inches and inches of rain, saturated soil, and overflowing rivers. “The moisture in ‘93 started in the Northern Plains and the Upper Midwest, and we had a top-down flooding event” along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Martin says.
In 2015, Martin sees very different weather patterns in play. “We are not dealing with a 1993 scenario,” he says. This year, warm, dry air is coming northward from Mexico, cool air is flowing southward from Canada, and there’s a large weather ridge over the western U.S. Storms are moving southwest to northeast, dropping rain along the way in Texas, Missouri and other states.
For some, though, the specifics matter less than the damage their fields have already sustained. For one farmer in Texas, 1993 didn’t bring devastation—but 2015 just might. “I did not lose my whole wheat crop in 1993. I did not have dams bust in 1993. I did not see the I-35 bridge on Red River almost underwater in 1993. I did not have 21 inches of rain in May 1993. I did not have Tropical Storm Bill dump 8 inches of rain in 1993,” he commented on AgWeb. “1993 was wet, but not mass destruction of farms.”
(Perhaps not in Texas. The 1993 floods submerged 15 million acres of farmland, according to NOAA.)
Is there another year that might offer insights into the very wet 2015? Not really, according to Martin, who highlighted a number of notable—or perhaps notorious, depending on your experience—growing seasons.
- In the case of Missouri, considerably more precipitation fell in the summer of 1981 than it did in 1993.
- In northeast Indiana, this summer’s rain has already surpassed the previously record-breaking soggy summer of 1986.
- In central Indiana, farmers haven’t seen this much rain since 1897, more than a century ago.
Martin thinks that 2010 may be the closest year so far to 2015 in terms of comparable weather. “2010 is actually similarly wet, with (similar) precipitation distribution,” he says, although with significantly higher than average rain amounts in many places.
Of course, the volume of that rain has been staggering. One farmer in Illinois told AgWeb how his grandson was walking the soaked soybean fields—by paddling in a kayak. “Approximately 25 acres under water,” the farmer said on July 15.
Will the rainfall continue? Martin doesn’t think so. As he looked at the key corn- and soybean-producing states of Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio, he developed the following forecast.
Here’s what farmers can expect going forward in the months ahead, according to Martin.
- August: Lower than normal precipitation and higher than normal temperatures.
- September: Below normal temperatures, with timely rain in Minnesota and dry weather in the Eastern Corn Belt. What will happen in Missouri? That’s a “question mark,” said Martin, who noted that late-planted soybeans could be at risk from uncooperative weather.
- October: Warmer than normal temperatures in the West and cooler than normal in the East, with below-normal precipitation across these big six states. “This should promote good drying” of crops in the field, according to Martin.