Mother Nature to Provide Few Spring Field Work Windows Again in 2020

Brad Rippey USFR 11/30/19
If farmers are looking for a break in the wet weather to harvest or even prep fields for spring, the remainder of 2019 and heading into 2020 doesn't look very promising for a break from the rain and snow. ( Farm Journal )

The weather isn’t aiding farmers needing to get crops out of the field. As of November 24, 84% of the corn crop was harvested, the second slowest pace on record. The only year farmers’ experienced an even slower harvest was 2009.

“It's almost like a recap of 10 years ago,” said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. “We had late maturing crops. And we also dealt with this adverse autumn weather, and it really is no surprise, given what we've been through this year, that we're going to finish up extremely late with harvest.”

Rippey describes harvest as a “tough slog” all fall, and he says conditions are getting worse, not better.

“It’s taken a turn for the worse over the last few days with storms really ramping up across the Midwest, and as we move into December, I don't see any sign of things getting any better,” he said.

Rippey thinks that forecast will continue to play out as the calendar races toward 2020.

“We had a few opportunities, some open weather in November, especially during that really cold period, because we started seeing some of the upper Midwestern fields freezing and a lot of the soybeans came out during that time, but now it's turned milder and wetter and so that window for field work has closed down in a lot of areas,” said Rippey. “If anything we're finishing up now worse than we started off.”

Drew Lerner of Weather World, Inc. said cooler weather isn’t helping saturated soils dry down, a major concern for anyone trying to finish up work in the field.

“My biggest concern is the amount of moisture that we're going to have in the soil, the coolness, and we're going to be a little slow getting started in the fields,” said Lerner. “I think the end result of that is that it's going to be a little bit of a concern, a little deja vu of last year.”

Lerner thinks similar to what the U.S. saw in late October, the U.S. could be in for some extremely frigid air at the end of December.

“Shots of cold is what is most likely to occur and they'll be potent, probably late December, early January, and then again in March, we could see some pretty impressive cold,” said Lerner.

Lerner said the shots of brutally cold air won’t be constant. He thinks warmups in between will give people a break from below normal temperatures this winter. However, a break from the cold also means more moisture in the forecast.

“The unfortunate part about that is when you get the break, you bring warmer air back into the cold air mass and you create more precipitation so we'll get we'll get a break from the temps but we won't get a break from the precipitation,” he adds.

Rippey agrees, saying the sharp cold much of the country saw in October was a period that brought winter early, but allowed or dry conditions for field work.

“Now we've kind of switched back and we've gotten into a wetter milder pattern, and I think these intersperse periods where it's colder and drier - with warmer and wetter-  will continue and right now we happen to be in that milder wetter pattern again,” said Rippey. “Unfortunately, that is the worst possible situation for completing fieldwork this year.”

The similarity in the forecast to last winter is a concern not just for the winter months. Both Rippey and Lerner say their concerns are also spilling over into spring.

“We're going to have a cool long winter, we are going to have enough precipitation around that we are going to keep the ground fairly saturated,” said Lerner. “The spring itself probably looks a little bit like last year, not nearly the intensity of storm systems and their frequency will be a little bit lighter, but it's still going to be near to above average precipitation through a fair amount of the Midwest as we go through the spring.”

With more moisture over the winter months, and frozen soils locking in the moisture already there, both Lerner and Rippey are concerned about field work this spring

“The best forecast for the future is  persistence,” said Rippey. “If you look at the weather that we've had since late October, and you just project that forward, I think that's your probably your best forecast right now.”

Rippey thinks the excess moisture in soils, combined with continuous moisture this winter, is not just a concern for field work, but flooding.

“As we go into the spring with snow on top of that, and it really does look like another spring of planting delays and flooding, especially throughout the upper Mississippi basin and parts of the Missouri basin as well,” said Rippey. “I don't want to quite get out there and say a repeat of 2019, but certainly heading this spring, it does not bode well for upper Midwestern fieldwork, as well as dealing with the issues and flooding. Even as we speak right now we've got flooding going on at a very unusual time of year in parts of the Missouri basin, and especially in eastern South Dakota, and so just project that forward a few months, add some more snow storms on top of that, and that almost guarantees big problems for spring of 2020.

What’s driving the winter forecast and heading into spring? It’s no El Nino or La Nina. Lerner said there are a couple factors playing into the forecast, including ocean temperatures.

“The main thing right now is for the winter is the water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska temperatures are so warm, and that's causing a Northwest flow pattern,” he said. “In another couple of weeks, we're going to find the cold air coming back down, so that's going to provide a source for cold. And then during the about the other half of the time in the winter, we're going to see a fairly active pattern coming in from the southwestern United States through the central and southern plains to the Midwest. So that gives us the moisture.”

Lerner thinks some dryness could creep into the picture for the summer of 2020, but he said that’s too far down the road to pinpoint with great accuracy just yet.

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