There’s no doubt, a warm-up is crucial

-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
The Lauvers, farmers in Calhoun County, are ready for spring planting, but with untimely snow storms in April, spring planting has been delayed indefinitely.

The first half of April 2018 is going down in the record books, and not in the way most Iowans prefer.

“From a historical standpoint, we’re setting records on the early part of April through April 15,” said Dennis Todey, director of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment. “Most stations around the area are the coldest, or if they’re not the coldest, maybe second coldest for that time period, and this would be data going back to the late 1800s. In many cases, it’s not only the coldest, but we’re beating the coldest previously by 2 to 2 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit.”

This isn’t exactly the first time it has snowed in mid- to late-April. However, the regularity of these storms is typically not the case.

“We have seen some individual storm event this time of year before, so it’s not unheard of,” he said. “The odd story of this whole thing is the consistency of seeing these things happen. Several of these happen over time and keeping piling the snow up this time of year.”

Todey said that although these winter weather conditions for spring weren’t necessarily previously forecasted in weather outlooks that have been released, as meteorologists, they are working at alerting producers when these types of events do come up.

“That’s an issue. We have been and we are trying to work on improving forecasts,” he said. “As an agriculture meteorologist, I am trying to help interpret forecasts better to give people a better heads up. Maybe we can’t change anything, but with events like this last big snow, we can let livestock producers know they can work on getting calves and mothers closer to where they can deal with them and the weather ahead of time.”

What is bringing weather typically seen in winter clear into April?

“I have had that question a lot,” Todey said. “The short answer is, we’ve had a very persistent trough — a dip in the jet stream over the eastern part of the country — that has been allowing repeated cold air to come down over us and along with that, we’ve seen several storm systems come through that have been fairly good precipitation producers.”

But he promises it will warm up.

“I am reluctant to give a date, that’s a hard thing to call,” he said. “But right now, we’re seeing maybe a little more persistent warm up towards the end of the month. Late next week.”

Todey predicts producers in the more southern sections of the state could begin fieldwork at that point, but added it’s going to be tough for producers in northern Iowa to have a lot happening out in the field by the first of May.

“We will have lost a bit of the growing season,” he said. “We do have a tool that people can look at; a growing degree day tool that they can start looking at now and saying, ‘Do I want to rethink what corn hybrid I am planting? Or am I OK and go ahead with what I have?'”

“I am not encouraging people to shift, but I would encourage people to sit down and look at how much of the growing season they have lost and what is my risk of getting to maturity with the corn, especially right now,” he added.

Todey said producers can visit http://mrcc.isws.illinois.edu/u2u/gdd.

On the plus side

Todey said there are two things going for Iowans at this point.

“The high sun angle at this time of year is different than the typical mid-winter snow storm,” he said. “Even on a day when it’s not very warm, there’s enough incoming solar radiation that will still do a number on the snow. And most people will understand that spring snows are not long-lived.”

“It’s just a matter if we avoid much out of the next system and if we can just get some warmer temperatures,” Todey added. “We flat-out need warmer temperatures consistently.”

Looking at the remainder of the spring and into early summer, Todey said, as of right now, he doesn’t see any major issues ahead of us, but also noted that is hard to predict.

As far as last year’s dry conditions following us into the 2018 growing season, he sees no issues with that, and before the snow, were looking at some nice soil conditions.

“That was a bit of an advantage,” he said. “I think we still have a little bit of dry soils going into spring, or at least no overly wet soils, so we were going to be able to get in the field. The snowfall probably wasn’t bad. It probably added a little bit more moisture to the soil. It will soak in; there’s a benefit there, too. But we are at the point where we need to be done with the snows and allow some warming to start occurring.”

COMMENTS