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Fox News Weather Center

Looming drought may limit corn production in central US

As impact from El Niño diminishes, anticipated moderate drought conditions over much of the central United States this summer could limit corn production.

El Niño is defined by above-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean. This warm anomaly occurs every two to five years.

The stormy pattern in the Central states during March will change.

As El Niño diminishes, the number of storm systems moving across the nation also diminish.

"We expect the natural drying and warming process of the spring to be accelerated this year," according to AccuWeather Chief Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

The quick drying and warming trend will follow wet conditions and severe weather outbreaks in some areas early on.

Contributing factors to the quick spring warmup include much-lower-than-average snowfall this winter from many areas of the U.S. Great Plains to the Canada Prairies and few rainstorms later this spring over the central U.S.

Once the ground becomes dry, more of the sun's energy is available to heat the ground and the air.

This cycle will continue well into the summer.

"The quick warmup this spring will be followed by a mainly dry and hotter-than-average summer over a large part of the Corn Belt areas of the eastern Plains and Midwest," Pastelok said.

The average high temperature from western Ohio to eastern Nebraska, eastern South Dakota and southern Minnesota is in the middle to upper 80s F during July and August. The pattern could bring a high number of days with temperatures in the 90s this summer.

Extreme heat and dryness can greatly stress crops, such as corn. When a crop is stressed, there is a greater chance of reduced yields.

The drought anticipated over much of the Corn Belt this summer will be the first since 2012.

It is too early to say for sure where the worst drought conditions will develop with respect to east versus west of the Mississippi River.

"There are also likely to be less thunderstorm complexes around than what typically occurs during the late spring and summer," Pastelok said.

More than half of the region's rainfall during the early and middle part of the summer comes from thunderstorm complexes.

The pattern this spring may allow corn to be planted earlier than usual and much earlier than in 2015.

"By planting early, the corn will have a better chance to mature before soil conditions get too dry," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls said. "Planting early allows the use of the highest-yielding hybrid varieties of corn."

With the anticipated pattern, the chance of widespread areas of killing frosts during the middle and latter part of the spring is lower than average.