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May Snow Cools Corn Belt's Progress

posted on May 3, 2013

John Steinbeck once said “I've lived in good climate, and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate.” If that’s the case and Steinbeck had been in America this past week, the legendary writer who penned “The Grapes of Wrath” would have been anything but bored.

In California, hot and dry conditions fueled wildfires this week that blackened 15 square miles. More than 3,000 firefighters battled six major wildfires Friday.

Hot, dry Santa Ana winds gusting to more than 50 miles per hour swept flames toward the coast threatening thousands of homes in their path. And the blazes reinforced predictions that California is in for an especially bad summer fire season, thanks to snowpack that is just 17 percent of normal; and hot, dry weather that has left brush tinder-dry.

Further east, this spring will be remembered as a season of historic cold. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports the month of April was the second-coldest since 1895. And if May is any indication, the calendar might say spring but winter isn’t over just yet. Paul Yeager explains.

May Snow Cools Corn Belt's Progress

This week started with some delayed warm and dry conditions. The weather pattern allowed for corn planting to finally occur. But growers are still well behind the average pace as only 5 percent of the corn crop was in the ground according to USDA’s weekly crop progress report. That trails the 5-year average of 31 percent. And virtually no corn has been planted in four of the top major corn-producing states.

The future planting progress is going to be difficult to predict according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist: “Without El Nino or La Nina it’s a very tough summer to forecast. Right now we’re kind of hanging the forecast on the North Atlantic block, and if it persists look for this cool, wet weather pattern to break down and we’ll trend into a hotter, drier June and July, which would not be favorable for crops because then we would have late planting compounded with the fact that we’d be heading into a hotter, drier summer.”

But the advancement was short lived as Mother Nature humbled producers late this week with much-needed moisture in the form of snow.

Another winter storm dumped several inches on the Rockies. Even for Denver residents May snowstorms are unusual.

Chris Lujan, Denver native: "It's very late. It's very late in the city. It's not late in the mountains but here in the city it's extremely late for it to snow."

The storm made its way across western Kanas -- where Market to Market Facebook fan Louise posted this photo of snow that fell near the west-central community of Dighton. Another fan on our site, Michelle near Cambridge, Nebraska, posted this picture where the moisture is adding insult to injury as the snow came too little too late for her family’s winter wheat crop. Michelle reports several thousand acres of wheat have already been written off as ruined because of lingering dry conditions.

The Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska remains very similar to last week with only a fractional decrease to 60.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. in one of the four stages of drought.

Flooding concerns waned in the Fargo, North Dakota area this week. The Red River crested Wednesday at 33.32 feet, 15 feet above flood stage, and just in the top ten highest crests ever recorded in the region.

Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist: “Even though we have a new storm that’s starting to affect the region it doesn’t look like rainfall totals will be quite enough to bring a whole new round of flooding. Yes, we’ll see some localized flooding developing in some of the lowland areas, but no more big flooding like what we saw in late April.”

“The fact that we have subsoil moisture that’s still on the short side across a lot of areas like Iowa and Minnesota is helping to soak up some of the moisture and certainly has minimized the flooding. It could have been a lot worse if we’d had a wet winter and early spring.”

This week, at least three states set May snowfall records.

In Minnesota, the southern portion of the state received the brunt of the storm. Blooming Prairie’s 15 inch total will go into the record books as the highest 24-hour snowfall total in the month normally reserved for flowers.

The second state to be dumped on Thursday was Wisconsin where Travis in Menomonie, posted these pictures via Twitter of snowfall at Pine Point Farms. The highest totals came from Rice Lake where more than 17 inches fell.

And Iowa producers were in the same frozen boat. Snowfall dampened recent progress with nearly a foot falling in the north Iowa town of Forest City.  

The National Weather Service says the last time Des Moines received more than one inch of snow in May was in 1907.

Just hours earlier, tractors were working to get back on track with spring field work. Now they sit under a bittersweet blanket of snow, waiting for the next window to open to get back in the field. 

For Market to Market, I'm Paul Yeager.

Tags: drought flooding Iowa Minnesota Nebraska news planting progress rainfall snow USDA weather Wisconsin