Two major weather forces will battle over the next few months to determine winter’s bite in farm country. Overall, the forecast points to relatively average precipitation levels and normal to slightly warmer temperatures for much of the Midwest.
“We have a very weak El Niño forming—a Modoki El Niño,” says Eric Snodgrass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois. “When we have a Modoki El Niño, the western U.S. tends to stay warmer and the eastern U.S. stays cooler than average. The Corn Belt can be hard to predict because it’s always in that transition zone.”
When El Niño is the dominating factor, winter weather is tranquil and boring, says Drew Lerner, senior ag meteorologist and president of World Weather. The stronger chance for large amounts of rain and snow will occur when ocean temperatures and jet streams take control of the forecast.
“The water is quite warm in the Gulf of Alaska and in a band coming off the southern California border,” Lerner says. “These two warm pools are very important.”
The warm ocean temperatures near Alaska tend to produce a high-pressure ridge that flows across the central and eastern portions of North America. If this ridge prevails, Lerner says, it will be a source of storminess, in the form of snow, for the southern and eastern U.S. This will likely bring excessive moisture to areas such as the Ohio River Valley and parts of the Delta.
The coming weeks will bring more confidence to the winter and spring forecast, Lerner says. As of now, he anticipates delays in spring planting for the portions of the eastern Corn Belt that will be affected by the high-pressure ridge.
Pay close attention to the strength of El Niño and the impacts of ocean temperatures, Snodgrass says. However, use these long-range weather forecasts as guidance only.
“A lot of people want to apply the law of averages,” says Snodgrass, also co-founder of Agrible, a farm data analytics company. “As in, we’ve had six good years of yields in the U.S. People think we’ve had too many good years, so we’ll get hammered with bad yields. But every time you plant, you have the same odds.”
Don’t miss Eric Snodgrass’ presentation at Top Producer Seminar, “Disruptive Weather: Consistency in Chaos.” Register at TPSummit.com