Too Wet to Plant in the Midwest

While the situation is not serious, frequent rainfall, chilly conditions and muddy soil over much of the Midwest this spring has put the skids on planting for the time being.

During the last several years, it has been one extreme or the other for agriculture in portions of the Central states.

Wet weather and flooding was the theme in many areas during 2011. Last year, spring warmth turned to blistering heat and drought during the summer. This season so far from the Mississippi Valley into the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley region, it is flooding as well as a lingering chill.

The good news is that the weather pattern that brought frequent waves of cold throughout the region and ongoing snowstorms to the Plains and Great Lakes is easing. Most farmers are willing to deal with wet conditions and planting delays, rather than drought.

However, later next week, additional rounds of rain will occur, and there can be one more invasion of cold air that can add to planting delays.

One particular system meteorologists are watching is what could be a large and slow-moving storm set to develop during the middle of next week.

The worst case scenario would be for several days of rainy and cool conditions that leads to new flooding problems in some areas and ongoing soggy ground for agricultural interests. A freeze could again drive southward over wheat areas of the Plains with a narrow zone of snow for the Upper Midwest.

According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity, "The storm next week appears as though it will tap a significant amount of Gulf of Moisture, while a puddle of cool air settles over the Midwest."

Setups like this have the potential to unleash rounds of heavy rainfall: some of it from thunderstorms, some by other means.

The area at greatest risk for additional flooding or continuing soggy conditions would be from Iowa and Missouri to Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. Much of this area has already received from 150 to 200 percent of their normal precipitation since Jan. 1, 2013. Note the extremes below for April.

One way the storm next week could bring less rainfall is if a second storm forms in the Deep South. Such a storm would prevent Gulf of Mexico moisture from flowing northward over the Midwest. However, such a storm could lead to flooding problems in parts of the South.

However, areas which have escaped the worst of the rain thus far could also have several days of wet weather farther south and east from Arkansas to Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

It is possible that if the soil remains too wet too long into the spring season, farmers in some locations will have to switch from later-maturing crops to the early-maturing varieties. Many of the early-season varieties deliver lower yields than the main-season ones.

According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "In typical conditions on soil that is well-drained, most farmers can get into the fields and plant four of five days after a heavy rain. However, the lower temperatures that have been occurring this spring are resulting in slower evaporation rates. By the time the soil is about ready to be worked, the next rainstorm was overspreading the area."

In parts of the northern Plains and the Upper Midwest, the ground is still frozen and still has a great deal of snow on top as of the middle of this week.

While much of the snow will melt this weekend in the northern tier, the point at which the ground will be warm and dry enough for planting in a large part of the Midwest is still weeks away.

There is hope that warmer weather spreading from the Plains to the Midwest this weekend into early next week may be enough to allow some planting to take place in some well-drained areas of the southern and central part of the region, ahead of the next storm system.

While temperatures will turn around dramatically this weekend, record lows for so late in the season occurred over the northern Texas Panhandle and vicinity Wednesday morning.

"Freezes such as this as well as earlier this spring and perhaps next week could impact some of the winter wheat grown over the Great Plains," Mohler said.

Plains Weather Expert and Sr. Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, Mike Smith raises concerns for the wheat as well and has more information in his blog.

There are some indications that wheat in some of the southern areas was entering the jointing phase and could be more vulnerable.

The winter wheat matures from south to north from late spring to the summer.

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