Wet spring likely for Midwest | TSLN.com

Wet spring likely for Midwest

DTN photo by Ben ReinscheMuddy fields preventing rapid field work progress are once again in store for much of the central U.S. this spring.

OMAHA (DTN) – Spring 2009 started on a very wet and cool note across most of the Midwest, bringing the prospect of a second-straight year of sketchy and haphazard field-work progress.

The weather outlook for 2009 isn’t an exact copy of 2008, but there are plenty of similarities. DTN Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said the general character of the season is starting out in almost the exact same fashion as a year ago.

“Without getting overly specific, I have to say that, overall, rainfall for the spring season in the Midwest will be in the normal to above-normal category,” Palmerino said.

Predicting the exact location of the wettest conditions for an entire season is difficult. But, to Palmerino, an early candidate for both weather-related and location-related reasons is the far northern Corn Belt – northwestern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, and northeastern South Dakota.

“Actually, the eastern Dakotas into northwestern Minnesota and north into the eastern Canadian Prairie will all be affected by the combination of snowmelt and potentially heavy rain in the Red River valley,” Palmerino said. “They’ve still got over a foot of snow to melt out in that area. The melting snow raises concerns because the shallow banks of the (Red) river do not handle snowmelt well. This is the area that has the greatest double-whammy of snowmelt and rainfall bringing on significant flooding and delays in field work and planting. Planting delays will truly be the biggest issue in this sector.”

To underline the extent of the snow cover in this sector of the Corn Belt, the March 2 North Dakota crop weather bulletin noted that statewide average snow cover was 16.9 inches on March 1, compared with 3.6 inches last year. This 16.9-inch snow cover was also greater than the most recent high of 14.6 inches in 1997 — the year of extensive flooding in the Red River valley.

Continuing southward, Palmerino expects the north-central Midwest – a corridor between Interstate 80 across Iowa and Interstate 90 across southern Minnesota – to have some field work delays as well, although not to the extent of locations farther north.

“The I-80 to I-90 corridor is likely to be a little slower in its progress,” Palmerino said. “This situation could actually be more related to soil temperatures where there’s a struggle to warm the ground up because of chilly, cloudy and wet conditions.”

Palmerino anticipates total rainfall in the north-central Midwest to be near to above normal. In some parts of this sector, the precipitation will help to re-charge soil moisture supplies. An area from southern Minnesota through north-central Wisconsin is assessed as having a “moderate drought” in the March 17 U.S. drought monitor.

“Some areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin would definitely welcome the moisture,” Palmerino said.

Farther south, Palmerino expects the south-central Midwest – bounded by Interstate 80 on the north and Interstate 70 on the south – to share in at least some of the delayed-field work concerns, mainly due to persistent rainfall.

“Soils are basically saturated in this area of the Midwest,” Palmerino said. “There will be episodes of heavy rain to bring on local flooding. I certainly think that the majority of this sector region will likely see some planting delays throughout the spring.”

Palmerino also expects at least some flooding in the I-70 to I-80 corridor this season.

“Local flooding due to saturated soils and heavy rain is very possible on smaller streams and rivers,” he said. “Fortunately, major flooding is not as big a threat as last year because of the lack of snow cover along with more of a variable rainfall pattern than we had a year ago.”

Compounding the weather issues is a lack of field work progress last fall. The Iowa Department of Agriculture noted that fall fertilizer application as of early December 2008 stood at 43 percent complete – far behind the 76 percent completion rate in December 2007, and 23 percentage points behind the 66 percent average fertilization completion rate for the date.

The southern Midwest – south of Interstate 70 – has the overall highest probability for on-time field work progress. But, Palmerino does not expect this area to escape the impact of early spring storms.

“I’m looking for some active severe weather events that could certainly produce some episodes of heavy rainfall,” he said. “But, these occurrences will be more individualized episodes, and not something that would be frequent – more of a situation where you would have two out of seven days with storm activity as opposed to a sustained five-out-of-seven (days with rain) prospect.”

bryce anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@dtn.com

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