Rainy Autumn Recharges Moisture in Midwest Fields

December 21, 2015 01:18 PM
Rainy Autumn Recharges Moisture in Midwest Fields

The Upper Midwest is heading into winter with fully recharged soil moistures after experiencing one of its warmest and wettest fall seasons on record, according to preliminary data from the Midwest Regional Climate Center (MRCC).

Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan all had record warm Septembers, according to MRCC. Add Iowa to the mix, and all four states experienced a very wet November. December is continuing in the same warm, wet pattern, and in areas of the Upper Midwest, the ground remains unfrozen, or it just recently froze.

For instance, more than an inch of precipitation fell across areas of Iowa, southern Wisconsin, and northwest Michigan between Dec.  12 to Dec. 14. Even higher amounts fell in the Minnesota-Iowa-Wisconsin tri-state area, where more than two inches of rain fell on Dec. 14 alone, according to MRCC data.

“If the ground had been frozen, this fall’s moisture would not have percolated in. We got quite a bit of soil recharge,” said Mike Timlin, MRCC regional climatologist. “A good freeze caps off moisture percolation into the ground.”

Fully Charged Topsoil

The top two centimeters of soil in a wide swath of the Corn Belt, stretching from northern Texas through Michigan is in the 95 percentile for soil moistures, compared with soil moistures during the 1948-2012 period, according to NASA’s latest GRACE-Based Surface Soil Moisture Drought Indicator.

The Crop Moisture Index also shows that Iowa and most of Wisconsin are wet, while Minnesota is rated as neutral.

“We are starting off the year with a fuller soil moisture profile than in a drier year,” says Jeff Coulter, extension agronomist with the University of Minnesota. “Things work out best, though, if spring is on the drier side. Typically we have too much moisture early and not enough later. At this point, I am fairly neutral on the soil moisture profile.”

Current soil moisture could carry producers through a dry spring, but if the spring is wet, it could slow fieldwork. On the other hand, if the region gets an early spring and the soils warm quickly, planting could be early, according to Timlin. 

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