As planters continue to roll this spring, the La Nina weather pattern is shifting to El Nino’s warmer Pacific Ocean surface temperatures. As a result, for the first time in three years, farmers and ranchers should see more normal weather patterns this summer, says DTN meteorologist John Baranick.
“Historical records and weather models point towards normal precipitation and temperature patterns that we haven’t seen the past few summers. In other words, thunderstorms developing in the West and the Plains, building and moving eastward, developing into complexes and sometimes severe weather,” he says. “Added frequency of storms and more normalized temperatures will reduce the extremes of the past few summers. There will be winners and losers, but the vast majority of the Corn Belt is drought-free this spring,” he adds.
Baranick says summer 2023 will still see heat waves, but they are more likely to be shorter this year, followed by periods of cooler weather. “I think this year we’ll see a bit more temperature variability and not a lot of sustained heat like we saw the last two summers.”
When you compare last year’s drought monitor map to the current map, the extreme and severe levels have greatly diminished everywhere except the Southwest Plains states from Nebraska down into Texas. Unfortunately, current weather models show Texas will experience additional heat waves during June and July. “Historically, a developing El Nino usually brings an enhanced southern storm track that can bring additional periods of rain through Texas. It’s just that the models aren’t picking that up right now,” Baranick says.
West of the Missouri River, drought continues to rage across Kansas and western Oklahoma into the Texas panhandle. Even if these areas would receive double the average rainfall, Baranick doesn’t see drought eliminated because it’s so deep over a long period. Fortunately, the expectation for increased rain will help prevent the drought from getting worse.
Another benefit is precipitation timeliness. “We’ve seen drought areas over the last few years get just the right amount of rain at the perfect time,” he says. “And despite being in a drought area, these areas still had pretty good yields.”
Grazing livestock should find better conditions, especially compared to the last two years. Except for the Southwest Plains drought areas, spring pasture conditions should be good, with favorable fall weather to rechange grass production.
Extensive research shows that extreme weather events have increased as global temperatures have increased over the last 100 years, which Baranick explains, means we’ve seen more flooding and drought. More rainfall is coming in heavier events rather than spread out in lighter events, but it’s been a gradual process over time.
“We’ll always see some freak weather events pop up, from polar vortexes to derechos, but it can be more hype than reality,” Baranick says. “Ever since the severe 2020 derecho went through Iowa and Illinois, there’s a tendency to tie future storms into these freak events. We will see one or two derechos yearly, but they’re not drastically increasing as much as the terms are being used.”
Except for the upper Midwest—North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin—weather has been favorable for corn and soybean planting. “It’ll be interesting to see how quickly we return to normal temperatures and precipitation in May. Delayed planting across the northern tier of the Corn Belt won’t be a surprise,” he says.
The good thing about most short-lived El Nino patterns (usually 6 to 9 months) is they typically extend the growing season into a warmer fall harvest, which helps later-planted crops. And while it’s too early to predict yields with any accuracy, Baranick says the weather patterns favor at least trendline yields, if not better.
Looking further into 2024, Baranick says that every weather model currently agrees odds are favorable to reduce the drought across the southern Plains. “I’m not saying the drought will be completely gone by springtime 2024, but I think we’ve got a good chance this fall and winter to really reduce the drought,” he adds.
With Brazil’s Safrinha corn season planted a little late, there is a concern about a May dry spell and possible frost in June and July. “We don’t have a real good signal either way right now, but it’s something to watch going forward,” he says.
Australia is the other big concern, as El Nino tends to bring warmer and drier weather to eastern Australia across winter wheat and canola acres. “A lot of Europe and Asia cropland is set up for favorable weather; maybe a little drier in China, but not a huge deal,” Baranick adds.
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