Mandan News

Cool and wet: planting early

Cattle eat hay in windrows recently close to the Montana-North Dakota border.  (Photo by Sue Roesler)

Cattle eat hay in windrows recently close to the Montana-North Dakota border. (Photo by Sue Roesler)

By Sue Roesler
Lee News

Producers were anxiously awaiting Dennis Todey’s spring and summer 2014 growing season weather forecast.

During the 18th annual Diversity, Direction & Dollars program in Dickinson, N.D., Todey, the South Dakota State and Extension climatologist, answered the question most producers had on their minds.

“No, we are not going to see drought anytime soon,” Todey said, adding the long-term trend is for a near to better than an average growing season with the influence of an El Niño likely influencing weather toward the end of summer 2014.

Development of El Niño conditions could bring near-normal or even above-normal precipitation to a large portion of the central U.S. and the Northern Plains, he said.

“There can be normal or more precipitation during an El Niño, along with cooler than average temperatures,” Todey said. “With an El Niño, we get better at predictions than with a La Niña.”
Last year’s weather did not have a La Niña or an El Niño, which made it difficult to predict weather.

The remainder of the month of January 2014 will likely see colder than average temperatures, he said.

For Montana and North Dakota, Todey sees February and March staying “on the cool side,” with February probably being colder than January.

In fact, the months of February through April will probably be cooler than normal throughout the region, he added.

Precipitation will be an unknown over the next three months. There could be less, average or even above average precipitation for the next three months.

“There is an equal chance for any of the three with precip in the region,” he said. “Rain is the unknown factor.”

Because of that, he encouraged producers to plant shorter-season crops.

“We probably won’t have a long spring,” Todey said. “It is possible we will have a cool, wet spring. Plant as soon as you can and don’t go with longer varieties.”

The trend is for cool conditions throughout 2014, he said.

January has been very cold in many parts of the Dakotas and upper Northern Plains. For example, on Jan. 12, Grand Forks was the coldest on record.

“It has been pretty historically cold,” Todey said.

In addition, there has been a big shift in precipitation going on throughout the region, Todey said.

Last year, North Dakota had its 54th wettest year in recorded history, while Montana had normal precipitation and Wyoming and Minnesota, above normal precipitation.

In October, 2013, there was the Atlas blizzard in South Dakota and it was the 14th coldest month in history in the Northern Plains, along with a month of incredibly high precipitation.

“Total precipitation in North Dakota since October has been 4-5 inches, depending on location.” Todey said. “We’re setting lots of records. It is amazing to see the amount of water lying around that I saw in western North Dakota, South Dakota in late fall.”

Unfortunately, Todey said there is no real soil monitoring going on in the country, so it is difficult to tell producers exactly how much moisture is really in the soil.

But Todey predicts there has been plenty of snowpack in the region, and he said flooding is likely this spring in the James River and Red River valleys.

From 1892-2012, there have been more wetter than drier years in the upper Northern Plains.

“We’re wet and we seem to be getting wetter,” he said. That could mean diseases in crops could become an increasing problem for producers.

While the trend is toward wetter, there is still variability in the forecast.

“Wet is not a huge trend, but does it make corn viable up here? Yes,” Todey said.

Tiling has not been a big need in North Dakota, but Todey sees tiling becoming the norm, especially in the eastern part of the state.