Highlights: Drought remained at the forefront of the weather headlines as the year began, but was soon replaced by concerns about excessive spring wetness in the Corn Belt. The sudden Midwestern wetness hampered corn and soybean planting, delaying the start of the 2013 growing season. Drought persisted, however, across portions of the Great Plains, leading to a sub-par (2012-13) season for Hard Red Winter wheat (HRW). With the westward shift of drought, the spotlight began to focus on California and the Great Basin. Those areas experienced exceedingly dry conditions beginning in January 2013, effectively securing a second consecutive disappointing winter wet season. Later, a feeble start to the West's 2013-14 wet season led to mounting concerns about summer water supplies, especially in areas - such as California - entering a third year of drought.
Eventually, during the second half of the summer, drought returned to parts of the Midwest; however, the lack of excessive heat and the smaller scale drought - compared to 2012 - helped to limit the degree of harm to corn and soybeans. By the end of September, corn condition ratings (55 percent good to excellent; 16 percent poor to very poor) were dramatically opposed to those noted at the same time in 2012 (25 and 50 percent, respectively). Meanwhile, wet conditions prevailed for much of the year across the northern Plains and the Southeast, although an autumn drying trend in the latter region reduced topsoil moisture for the establishment of cool-season crops. In contrast, autumn moisture for HRW establishment was overall much better in 2013 than the previous year. As a result, 62 percent of the United States winter wheat was rated in good to excellent condition by late-November 2013, compared to just 33 percent a year earlier.
Despite some late-year drought expansion in the West, the portion of the contiguous United States covered by drought fell to just 30 percent during December, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This represented less than half of the drought coverage at the height of the 2012 drought (65 percent) and at the beginning of the year (61 percent). The last occurrence of United States drought coverage below 30 percent was December 2011.
Winter precipitation eradicated drought across much of the lower Southeast. Even as heavy rain triggered lowland flooding across the Deep South, including Florida's panhandle, showers largely bypassed Florida's citrus belt. As a result, producers across Florida's peninsula had to rely on irrigation as warm weather pushed citrus into an early bloom during February.
Farther west, above-normal winter precipitation provided some limited relief to drought-stressed rangeland, pastures, and winter wheat on the Plains. Beneficial winter precipitation also fell across the upper Midwest; however, subsoil moisture shortages persisted, heading into spring, across the Nation's mid-section. In contrast, drought was mostly eliminated before or during winter in the eastern Corn Belt.
Elsewhere, the Western wet season got off to a good start, especially in December. However, unfavorably dry conditions developed as 2013 began and persisted through January and February. As a result, water-supply prospects diminished by the end of winter, especially from California to the central and southern Rockies.
Spring: In stark contrast to 2012, cold, wet weather hindered spring planting operations across the northern Plains and much of the Midwest. Significant planting delays also occurred in the Mississippi Delta. Peak periods of Midwestern wetness occurred in April and late-May, resulting in separate rounds of flooding in the middle Mississippi Valley and environs. By the end of spring, lingering drought had been virtually eradicated from the States bordering the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Seaboard. Meanwhile, drought persisted or intensified from California and parts of Oregon to the southern half of the High Plains.
Spring warmth accompanied the Western dryness, leading to a mostly disappointing finish to the snow-accumulation season - and a premature snow- melt period. Only the northern tier of the West escaped without drought impacts. East of the Rockies, spring was slow to arrive, with snow falling in parts of the upper Midwest through April and into early May. In Minnesota and North Dakota recorded the coldest spring since 1950.
Summer: A subtle, late-June drying trend in the western Corn Belt became more pervasive as the summer progressed, encompassing much of the Midwest by the end of August. At the same time, late-summer temperatures climbed sharply, following previously cool conditions, placing immature corn and soybeans under increasingly stressful conditions toward summer's end. In contrast, seemingly incessant summer rainfall in the East hampered fieldwork and adversely affected a variety of fruits, vegetables, and row crops. Farther west, weather patterns across the Plains and Mid-South alternated between wet and dry conditions. The southern High Plains received some rain, but not enough to vanquish the effects of a 3-year drought. Elsewhere, an active monsoon circulation provided mid- to late-summer drought relief in the Southwest, while hot, generally dry conditions affected the interior Northwest.
Autumn: Autumn began with inundating rains in Colorado and record-setting precipitation in parts of the Northwest. Colorado's flood event, which lasted about a week and extended to portions of several other States, came at the tail end of an active Southwestern monsoon season. Nearly forgotten amid the Western wetness was the Midwestern warmth that pushed late-developing corn and soybeans toward maturity. In addition, generally dry weather promoted a rapid pace of fieldwork across the eastern half of the Nation.
Winter-like conditions arrived in October across the north-central United States, where an early-month snow storm slammed the Black Hills and neighboring areas. Farther east, Midwestern producers made excellent progress in harvesting corn and soybeans during October despite occasional rain. As autumn progressed, producers also made good progress planting winter wheat, with the only large scale area of concern being a lack of soil moisture on the southern High Plains. By autumn's end, wheat had slipped into dormancy in all but the Nation's southern production areas.
Cold weather expanded during November to encompass the Midwest, South, and East. The cold weather had little effect on late-season harvest activities, although some high moisture content corn remained in the field across the northern Corn Belt as autumn drew to a close. Meanwhile, the Southeast's overall dry autumn ended on a wet note, with a pre-Thanksgiving storm halting fieldwork but boosting topsoil moisture. Farther west, water supply concerns began to mount, as California moved deeper into a potential third consecutive year of sub-par, cold-season precipitation.
December: December storminess was widespread, except in the West. In addition, an early-season cold wave gripped much of the West during the first half of the month, possibly harming citrus in California's San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, several impressive storms affected the East, where multiple rain and snow events chipped away at autumn precipitation deficits. At times, snow also blanketed portions of the Plains and Midwest, with winter's chill deepening in those regions as the month progressed. By the end of December, temperatures across the upper Great Lakes region rivaled those observed in the West a few weeks earlier. However, the Southeast was spared from the cold weather, with temperatures remaining unusually high through month's end. Elsewhere, most of the Nation's winter wheat moved into its period of dormancy with few concerns. On the Great Plains, well over half of the wheat overall was rated in good to excellent condition at the end of December. However, drought concerns persisted on the southern High Plains, including Texas' northern panhandle.