Farmers and ranchers continue to scratch their heads over the unusual weather year they’ve endured, a year that’s already historic.
“If you look at the records going back more than 125 years, it's shaped up is the sixth wettest spring on record, which by itself may not sound that impressive, but it was the wettest since 1995,” said Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist.
Rippey said the relentless rains started before this spring, thus producing the wettest years the U.S. has ever seen.
“If you go all the way back a year and look at the time period from June 2018 to May of 2019, not only was it the wettest June to May period on record, but it was the wettest any 12 month period on record,” he said. “It doesn't matter what 12 month period you look at in the history, for the United States - going back to 1890 - it was simply the wettest 12 month period on record. It's that background, that wetness, that built up last summer, last fall and through the winter, that has led us to where we are now.”
He said this statistic illustrates the struggles agriculture is facing today as farmers who are still trying to plant are wondering when the wet weather pattern will finally break.
“The latest outlooks from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center indicate that we do see a strong likelihood for the continuation of cooler-than-normal and wetter-than-normal weather for large sections of the plains and the Midwest, which would make it a more 1993 like year,” Rippey continued.
Unfortunately, the majority of the U.S. crop needs heat units, not more cool weather.
“If you look at the growing degree days that have accumulated since April 1, the upper Midwest is generally one- to 200-degree day units behind normal for this time of year,” said Rippey. “As you move farther south and east, we're actually fairly close to normal as you move toward the Ohio River.”
Rippey pointed out even the growing degree day story doesn’t paint the picture accurately because the accumulation of those days doesn’t start until the crop gets planted.
“If you don't have a crop in the ground, you’re obviously not accumulating any growing degree day units whatsoever for that particular plant,” he said. “So, some of these incredibly late plantings, which are still ongoing in some areas, including South Dakota and parts of the eastern Corn Belt, have not accumulated any growing degree days yet. That means in principle, we're much further behind that one to 200-degree days behind average.”
Without heat, the immature and late planted crop could struggle to finish strong, making it more vulnerable to not just an early freeze, but even a normal freeze this year.
“The normal first freeze date in parts of the far Upper Midwest occurs as you move toward the end of September, and for the vast majority of the Corn Belt, the typical first freeze occurs during the first half of October,” said Rippey. “We are going to run up against that for some of these incredibly late planting corn and soybeans, and that does run the risk - even in a normal year - of having a damaging frost for some of these crops as we move into the autumn.”
U.S. Farm Report meteorologist Mike Hoffman agrees with Rippey. The summer of 2019 may be remembered as the year of not enough heat.
“For temperatures, I'm going to keep that below normal area right over the central plains and some of the surrounding states,” said Hoffman. “Part of that is because of the moisture in the ground. That might keep you fairly muggy at night, but it's going to cut down on the heat during the day in the middle of the country, and for much of the Corn Belt, except the far eastern Corn Belt.”
He said that’s his July forecast but as he gets into August, he thinks the area of below-normal temperatures across the U.S. could shrink.
“Then, in September, I do take that to below normal area away and just keep most of the Plains near normal,” said Hoffman. “That's what we're thinking right now with the very weak El Nino hanging on and just enough of the Northern jet stream still affecting us to bring some of that moisture in and the occasional cooler air.”
If a weak El Nino and high pressure systems park to the far north and block the heat from making its way down to the U.S., Rippey said the silver lining he sees is no major sign of drought.
“We may be on the brink of disaster, but maybe we can salvage something here. And I guess on the bright side where we don't have much drought to talk about,” he said.
Rippey is finding a ray of sunshine in the midst of all the clouds and rain, as weather woes remain prevalent in 2019.