Warmer temperatures expected in mid-March; spring flooding in store for some areas | TheFencePost.com

Warmer temperatures expected in mid-March; spring flooding in store for some areas

For ranchers and farmers in the Rocky Mountain states and the Great Plains, it appears that cold seasonal temperatures will hang on until the bitter winter’s end, but once spring kicks in March 19, then warmth inches in too. That’s according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s Spring 2020 Outlook, released Feb. 20.

“The National Weather Service temperature outlook for March 2020 indicates odds are tilted toward the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions across the southern half of the Plains. However, the spring (March/April/May 2020) outlook suggests that the eventual return of warm conditions could result in an overall warmer-than-normal spring west and south of a line from central Wyoming to central Oklahoma,” said Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist for the Office of the Chief Economist/World Agricultural Outlook Board in Washington, D.C.

Precipitation expectations for the March to May period range from the likelihood of drier-than-normal weather in western Texas to wetter-than-normal conditions in much of Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and parts of the Dakotas.

“Spring flooding may be a concern across northern sections of the Rockies and Plains, due to a combination of melting snow, mainly in the mountains and the eastern Dakotas; saturated soils, especially in eastern sections of the northern Plains; and the potential for moisture-laden spring storms, per the spring outlook,” Rippey said.


For Eastern Colorado, March looks cool, with near normal precipitation (equal chances above, below or normal).

Heading into April and May, temperatures look to become warmer than normal across the eastern Colorado plains, with near normal precipitation (equal chances of above, below or normal). “Drought unfortunately, has evolved over the far southern plains of Colorado over the past couple of months, south of Highway 50. D1 and D2 (drought categories) will likely continue this spring, however, there is a low likelihood of expansion,” said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo. “The dry conditions in eastern Colorado are likely stressing winter wheat and livestock” was a quote from the central region drought monitor call Feb. 20. Soil moisture was also below normal across eastern Colorado, and is currently drier than this time last year. Also, of note, the average last freeze date across eastern Colorado (lower than 28 degrees F) is in early to mid April,” Mozley said.

The Rockies’ water supply: “Water-supply prospects are mostly favorable in the Rockies and environs, partly due to abundant reservoir storage — a carryover from the bounteous 2018-19 winter wet season and partly due to frequent winter storms in 2019-20. Heading into the spring of 2020, the agricultural situation for the Great Plains is generally favorable,” Rippey said. However, pockets of dryness on the central and southern high Plains have left about 7 percent of the nation’s winter wheat production area in drought by late February, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (https://www.usda.gov/oce/weather/Drought/AgInDrought.pdf; slides 14-16). “Some wheat was also hurt by severe autumn cold snaps, which limited crop establishment in October and November. Elsewhere, late-winter drought was affecting 9 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory and 6 percent of the country’s hay production area (slides 8-13). Some of the most significant drought covered southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas and the western part of the Oklahoma panhandle,” Rippey said.


Meanwhile, for the central Plains, particularly Nebraska, while the early start to March shows no strong indication for above or below normal precipitation, most of Nebraska and Kansas are likely to experience near normal precipitation, however, that trend may change for Nebraska as spring arrives.

“By late March, odds favor above normal precipitation across Nebraska, and for April and May. This means the risk for wet conditions will be on the upswing for both April and May which could impact the planting season. If above normal precipitation develops, the risk for localized flooding issues will be heightened well into spring,” said Michael L. Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS in Hastings, Neb.

Nebraska Climatologist Al Dutcher agrees that spring precipitation will be something to watch, with above normal precipitation forecast for the northern Plains (Montana, the Dakotas and northwest Nebraska) the central corn belt (northern Iowa and all of Minnesota,) the entire Great Lakes, the eastern corn belt, as well as the middle to lower Mississippi River valley.

“The 90 day outlook almost mirrors the areas that have been impacted since the atmosphere began to favor the northern stream in early January. Prior to that, the southern stream was active ejecting lows both east and northeastward from mid-November through early January,” Dutcher said, adding, “If past pattern changes ranging from six to eight weeks in length continue, we are due for a pattern change favoring more southern stream energy over the next couple weeks. I would expect more warmth across the western corn belt, especially the western half of the southern and central Plains.”

However, Dutcher said, the eastern portions of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are in a prime location to receive moisture from these systems as they get far enough eastward to tap Gulf of Mexico moisture and move it northward. If these systems primarily move eastward, a continuation of wet conditions would be expected across the southeast and at least the southern half of the central and eastern corn belt.

However, if the majority of these systems move northeast out of the southern stream, then very wet conditions will continue into at least April for much of the central and eastern corn belt. “There is considerable uncertainty ahead, especially with the residual wetness carry over across most of the corn belt from the 2019 growing season,” Dutcher said.


Wyoming residents can be prepared for above normal precipitation this spring, according to the CPC outlook.

“The three-month outlook for March through May has all of Wyoming seeing better chances for above normal precipitation, with the potential being best in the north-central and northeast part of the state. For temperature, the northeast is favored to be below normal while the southwest should see above normal temperatures with those odds increasing the farther one goes to the southwest,” said Tony Bergantino, interim director of Water Resources Data System in the Wyoming State Climate Office/Wyoming CoCoRaHS State Coordinator. “The southwest is just coming out of a drought period of D0 (abnormally dry) so we’ll have to keep an eye out there for a return to drought conditions.”

Wyoming Snowpack: While still early in the season, snowpack is good for most of Wyoming, except for the Belle Fourche River Basin in the northeast, and the Sweetwater River Basin in the central part of the state. Even these are about 80 percent of median or better. With a few exceptions, most of the major reservoirs are running at greater than 80 percent capacity.

“The current snowpack, combined with possible above normal precipitation, at least in the March to May time frame, should look good for water supply going into the growing season. As we continue to move forward into summer, though, there are increasing chances for above normal temperatures, especially in the southwest, along with a decrease in certainty for precipitation across most of the state, except parts of northeast Wyoming,” Bergantino said.


Spring precipitation in Kansas is also expected to be slightly higher than average for: extreme north central Kansas, northeast Kansas and eastern Kansas, and eastward into all of Missouri and Iowa. The rest of Kansas has equal chances of having either normal, below normal or above normal precipitation.

Meanwhile, the temperature outlook from March to May is neutral across Kansas (and Nebraska,) with equal chances of above or below normal temperatures forecast. A moderate start to the spring would allow for a gradual start to the growing season. That, in turn would reduce vulnerability to any late frost event,” said Mary Knapp, assistant state climatologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, who worked in partnership with Chip Redmond, meteorologist and Weather Data Library network manager.

Early spring often provides a southwesterly trajectory into Kansas with strong storm systems. The growing drought with the below average snow pack in the southwest would mean this flow provides drier/warmer than normal conditions. This could also fuel drought further in the western portions of the state. Further east/north, these storm systems would provide a different impact with heavy rain and thunderstorms.

“During the spring season, severe weather frequently accompanies the frontal passages. In addition to the severe components of tornadoes, hail and high winds, heavy rainfall is climatologically increasing. The frequency of such events cannot be determined by current model outputs but will become more likely, as will conditions conducive for wildfires, since late February through mid-April are the climatological ‘fire season’ in Kansas,” Knapp said. “This year, the concern for large wildfires is higher than 2019. This is a result of increased rainfall last year leading to a high grass yield and resulting vertically aligned fuel load. While these fires still require conducive weather conditions, increasing fire behavior and suppression issues have already been noted on recent smaller fires,” said Knapp and Redmond.

“Neutral” Climate Pattern: The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) climate pattern is neutral, meaning neither a La Nina nor El Nino, with a 50 percent chance of ‘neutral’ lingering through the upcoming summer. Dutcher expects a La Nina to develop this fall. So, with no current strong or specific oceanic driver, the spring climate outlook tends to fall back on shorter term statistical or dynamic computer models, or ongoing trends.

“Historically, spring is a period of strong steering winds and jet stream across the central U.S. resulting in conditions that are more active,” Knapp said.

Mozley said the Madden Julian Oscillation is really playing a role in how the central Pacific is evolving.

“The MJO has also been attributed to the above normal precipitation over the central U.S. over the past few weeks. The MJO looks to remain active, with another cycle in March, and another in April. I’d expect dry conditions into early March over the western U.S. as the MJO progresses around the globe,” said Mozley, adding, “As we move into late March, that’s when wetter conditions could spread into the central U.S.” ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.

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