Wet winter weather could add to issues for spring planting in 2020

The next three months are predicted to bring more precipitation than average in northern Nebraska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“It looks like Nebraska and Kansas should be ready for a little bit of everything this winter.”

That analysis from Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings, Nebraska.

The Climate Prediction Center released its 2019-2020 winter outlook a month early, and the outlook for December, January and February in the central Plains calls for near to slightly above-normal precipitation during the winter, with northern Nebraska favored for more precipitation than normal.

As for temperature, the thermometer should be near or slightly above the normal mark. Kansas and southwestern Nebraska are expected to be warmer.

“Keep in the mind, the outlook is a general outlook of most likely conditions for the December-January-February three-month period as a whole,” Moritz said.

Confidence in this year’s outlook is bit more uncertain than last winter, he noted, because last season a steady El Nino impacted the globe. This winter, neither El Nino nor La Nina is expected, leaving the winter stuck in “neutral” when it comes to Pacific Ocean influences.

Some wonder if a Modoki El Nino might impact the U.S. Modoki comes from a Japanese term meaning “similar but different.”

“The difference is: a Modoki El Nino refers to warmer than normal surface water temperatures in the central Pacific, whereas the more typical El Nino is based on the eastern Pacific,” said Mary Knapp, assistant Kansas state climatologist. “The influences of a Modoki El Nino tend to be more concentrated in the Central Pacific and Australia, rather than basin-wide. Research is examining the question of what, if any, impact might affect the United States.”

Recent wet trends in the northern and central Plains, and an overall warming trend in recent years are both expected to be strong influences on anticipated winter impacts.

“With this in mind, both Kansas and Nebraska are likely to experience a wide variety of winter conditions, which may be influenced by other developing short term patterns,” Moritz said. “So, we need to be prepared for just about anything.”

Northern Nebraska is expecting above normal winter precipitation. Southern Nebraska and all of Kansas have equal chances of either normal, above or below normal precipitation.

Temperature-wise, Nebraska and northern and eastern Kansas have equal chances of either normal, above or below normal temperatures. Above average temperatures are forecast for southern and western Kansas.

For southwest Iowa farmers and ranchers, long-term climatology and trends are also the dominant seasonal predictor this winter. All of Iowa has “equal chances” (EC) of either: above, below or near-average temperatures for this winter.

Precipitation possibilities are a bit more impressive.

“Southern Iowa has a slightly elevated chance of wetter-than-normal conditions. Probabilities increase into northern Iowa,” said Dr. Justin Glisan, Iowa state climatologist.

Agricultural impacts focus on moisture variables, including precipitation and sub-soil conditions. As of late October, southwestern Iowa had 2 to 5 inches of above average rainfall over the last 30 days, Glisan said. Looking out 60 days, rainfall amounts are 4 to 8 inches above normal.

“With recent wetness, concerns about abnormally dry and drought conditions have vanished,” Glisan said.

Snowfall in the upper Missouri basin needs to be monitored, he said, as stream flows are near to above average.

“Flooding could continue to be an issue for southwestern Iowa moving into spring 2020,” he added.

Some of the cold waves this winter could be quite sharp, especially across the Plains and the Midwest. But the average for the three-month period is generally warm across much of the southern and western U.S., said Brad Rippey, U.S. Deparment of Agriculture meteorologist. There are equal chances of near normal, above-, and below-normal temperatures across the northern Plains and upper Midwest.

Meanwhile, Rippey said expected winter wetness from the northern Plains into the Great Lakes region is a concern where soils are already soggy and rivers are running high.

“A lot can happen between now and the end of winter, but expectations for lots of northern snow (and precipitation in general) could lead to significant flooding and planting delays in spring 2020 from the northern Plains into the upper Midwest,” he said.

Knapp emphasized the importance of using data based on these scientific methods.

“If it isn’t the official forecast issued from the National Weather Service or the CPC, then take it with a grain of salt,” she said. “Because of present day social media, anyone can create an impressive graphic and make their own forecast. While some are factual – most are sensationalism or based upon unscientific methods. It’s highly recommended to verify the source of the data you are using.”

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Amy Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in North Central Kansas. She's also a meteorologist and storm chaser. Amy can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.