What tune will Mother Nature be singing in July and August?
Two great truths underpin any seasonal weather outlook. First, there is nearly always a caveat. Second, there is always an exception.
This summer, the caveat hinges on whether the current El Niño can gain a foothold and strengthen. In its current weak state, mild temperatures with normal to above-normal precipitation could settle across the Corn Belt throughout July and August.
“Should we get into a strong El Niño as the European Model suggests (which is not 100% certain at this stage), we would increase temperatures further and make it quite a bit drier,” says Bill Kirk, cofounder of Weather Trends 360, which forecasts up to a year in advance using a complex blend of weather modeling.
Even though a warm and wet July would seem favorable on the surface for crop production, Kirk says the timing of such a shift would bring some concern about excessive heat during corn pollination.
“Also concerning would be much higher pest populations in light of the much warmer winter and warmer spring,” he says.
“For example, while Iowa rainfall has been better as of late, year-to-date, it is running the second driest in 25-plus years [as of May 26], so any hot weather can dry out the soil pretty quickly,” Kirk adds.
If El Niño doesn’t gain any significant momentum, most forecasters agree it could be another nice summer for many farmers.
“For much of the Corn Belt, I’m expecting temperatures to be close to normal—slightly cooler in the western Corn Belt and slightly milder in the southeastern Corn Belt—and for rainfall to be slightly above normal for the southern Corn Belt and near-normal farther north,” says Mike Hoffman, meteorologist for “AgDay.”
There are always exceptions to any forecast. One of those areas includes the Southern Plains, where Hoffman says it could end up 2° to 3° cooler than normal.
“Of course, for most of the country, temperatures are always quite warm in July and August, so being slightly cooler than normal will not be a big deal,” he says.
Other forecasters, including Pete Pastelok with AccuWeather, are looking at areas where there could be increased weather volatility this summer. For example, Pastelok says the overall tornado count should increase from 2014, and he’s predicting more 90° days than in 2014 for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.
The overall hurricane threat shouldn’t be as worrisome, however. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says three to six named storms could reach hurricane status (winds of 74 mph or higher), with up to two of those storms reaching Category 3 to 5 (111 mph or higher). NOAA says the chance of a “below normal” hurricane season is 70%.
Many eyes are still watching for potential drought relief in California, too. But most forecasters are not overly optimistic that relief will come at this time.
“There is a possibility that a strengthening El Niño could give some above-normal rainfall for central and southern California, but they get so little that it’s still not a drought-buster in any way, shape or form,” Hoffman says.
Pastelok agrees, and worries about the progress of this year’s wildfire season, which typically runs from June through October.
“The wildfire season has already kicked off a little early,” he says. “I think the frequency will really pick up later in the summer and early fall.”
From a marketing standpoint, an international weather wild card could get the bulls running, Kirk says. That’s because China and Brazil are also facing weather challenges. In Brazil, the second crop might have lower yields because rainfall was the highest in more than 25 years, with below average temperatures. In China, farmers faced the wettest spring in the past five years with planting delays in the Jilin region (“the Iowa of China corn”).
“If they didn’t plant a cooler or wetter variety corn, they will likely have lower than expected yields come August,” Kirk says.
To learn more about how Weather Trends 360 works and access weather tools, visit http://www.FarmJournal.com/weather