The La Niña climate pattern expected to last into mid-summer 2022 has meteorologists pointing to two scenarios for spring planting across the Corn Belt.
Given current weather models, DTN Ag Meteorologist emeritus Bryce Anderson draws a line in central Illinois--such as I-57 or highway 51--and says spring fieldwork to the west will be dry. “The further west you go from the Mississippi River, the drier it gets, especially west of Des Moines, Iowa.
“There’s currently enough comparison [of La Niña 2022] to the drought of 2012 that people are starting to get nervous," he adds. “Current weather outlook shows La Niña is 90% in effect. By March, it backs off a little to 80%. By the April through June period, it's around 60%.”
Heading east from that Illinois line will see the opposite conditions, as continued moisture could delay spring fieldwork, resulting in increased potential for prevented planting acres. “Planting delays are most likely in the eastern Corn Belt in areas already dealing with saturated soils—from St. Louis all the way to central Ohio,” Anderson adds. In addition, the Wabash Valley has a greater than 50% chance of flooding, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) North Central Region meteorologists.
In the larger corn-producing states, soil moisture remains a challenge. Iowa, northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska and southern Minnesota are all fairly dry. “In Iowa, we're looking at a low 15% soil moisture, not just at the surface but going down 40 centimeters below the surface. That’s 15.5 inches of dryness in a normally populated root development area," explains Anderson.
The current seasonal drought outlook map shows drought continuing from the Quad Cities in southeast Iowa, heading north through Madison, Wisconsin, into Green Bay. There’s also continued drought from central Minnesota toward northern Wisconsin.
“La Niña also hasn’t been a favorable precipitation maker in the northern tier of states, from western North Dakota through Montana,” Anderson adds. “Basically, from the western Great Lakes to the West Coast is dry, except for a little pocket in the Red River Valley where they've had good precipitation over the last couple months.”
With reduced snowpack in the Midwest, Anderson doesn’t see any relief in the western Corn Belt during the tail end of winter into spring. “Temperatures are expected to be above normal after we get into March. Any precipitation we receive will likely be taken up by grasses and trees starting their spring growth cycle. Moisture won’t have a real good shot at working into the soil profile and staying there, although a blizzard might be welcome if soils have thawed,” he adds.
Above normal temperatures are slated for the Midwest, depending on the shift from La Niña to an ENSO-neutral pattern, points out Anderson. Current outlook maps predict a 30% to 50% chance of above-normal temperatures across the Midwest from March through July.