Midwest Climate Hub: Early Winter Outlook

Guest post by Dr. Dennis Todey | USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director

Cold, dry conditions are expected to continue through February. The current weather models indicate that the cold will persist, with some warming periods occurring.  Normal levels of precipitation in January and February typically have little impact on drought conditions for the upcoming spring, but we will continue to watch closely and inform partners if conditions do not improve by spring. Monitoring frosts depths will be important for heading off issues for water supplies for both livestock and homes.

Current conditions

Temperature conditions in late December flipped from warmer than average in early December to much colder than average late in the month across the Midwest and most of the Northern Plains.  The last 30 days have now been below average for Iowa and much of the Midwest and Northern Plains.

Precipitation has been limited across most of the Midwest and Northern Plains with less than 25% of average precipitation across large chunks of the Midwest despite some recent snows.   Most of the Midwest and Northern Plains are now snow-covered.

jan todey precip


The extreme cold has impacted livestock across the region with the sharp turn to colder temperatures.  Possible damage may have occurred to perennials/fruit trees because of the extreme cold.  Cold temperatures set in across much of the Upper Midwest before snow covered the soil.  Without that insulating effect, soils were able to freeze more readily.  Most soils throughout the region were also fairly dry, allowing the soil to freeze at depth more easily.  With the consistent extreme cold and colder temperatures likely into January, frost depths will continue to penetrate deeper, causing potential problems for water supplies for livestock and potentially homes if the severe cold continues.

Monitoring frost depths would be a good idea.  NOAA provides a regional frost depth map.

The main current dryness impacts are in Missouri/Illinois/Iowa where the longer term dryness (in some places since last year) has left farm ponds low, limiting water for cattle and reduced feed availability in places.


The updated January outlooks from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicate similar conditions for the rest of the month and winter.  The jet stream pattern will continue to bring additional cold to much of the Northern Plains and Midwest with some intervening warmer periods.

Livestock will continue to experience colder conditions and need additional management.  Mentioned soil frost depths should also be monitored.

Drought conditions are unlikely to change much largely because precipitation is limited even in a more normal January.  Dry conditions do not worsen conditions much in winter.  Only extremely wet conditions can improve in the winter.  That is very unlikely at this point.  Dryness improvement will likely not occur until spring.

Midwest Climate Hub: Continued Dry Conditions for Fall

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director, with timely climate information for harvest 2017.

The latter part of summer presented a marked change from early summer. Cooler than average weather predominated over Iowa and the eastern Midwest since late July. This is sharp contrast to the June warmth and warm late winter/early spring. These conditions and new outlooks present some different issues for Iowa concerning crop development and moisture as we enter the fall.

Crop Development

The warm early season exacerbated the dry early season in much of Iowa leading to increased drought conditions. The warm temperatures also helped push crop development that had been slowed because of some delayed planting and cool late spring temperatures. The recent coolness has been a benefit for corn and beans allowing some better grain fill. However, the lack of Growing Degree Days is a problem for corn development, which is as much as 2-3 weeks behind in places in the state. The first fall freeze will need to hold off until near average or later to alleviate potential freeze issues on crops.


Conditions in parts of the state have flipped from early to late summer. Much drier than average conditions predominated much of the south to northwest parts of Iowa while the northeast to east central were moist to wet. Over the last 30 days rainfall has helped ease drought conditions in northwest Iowa while the eastern part of the state has dried showing changes in the US Drought Monitor. Most of the southern part of the state is still in some level of drought.

Todey Blog 9-2017Continued Dry Conditions

Dry conditions are likely to continue to affect much of the state into the fall given the current US Drought Monitor status. This is a positive for fall agricultural field work and completion of construction in the state because of the reduced chances for muddy conditions. But for dry areas impacted by drought, this is not good news (largely central and southern Iowa). Soil moisture recharge in these areas needs to begin in the fall to replenish soil moisture.

Cooler than average temperatures are still likely to impact the state for the balance of September. This will continue to slow crop development and increase the risk of freezing conditions earlier than hoped for many crops. Exact freeze dates will continue to be monitored.

Early Winter Outlook

Winter outlooks are largely impacted by having an El Niño or La Niña. Neither is likely to be affecting the winter outlook. Thus, our ability to say much for the winter is limited. The overall trend over recent years has been toward warmer winters. Thus, the outlook for the winter would lean a little more likely to be warmer. Precipitation chances are largely unknown at this point.

Summer Precipitation in Iowa? Still A Work in Progress

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director, with timely climate information for crop year 2017.

The spring and early summer in Iowa has been one of large opposing extremes from warm February to cool in early May to near record heat in early June.  Precipitation has also been excessive at times, but much less extreme than the wetness of the eastern Corn Belt and dryness of the northern plains so far this spring.

Crop planting progress in Iowa was slightly delayed because of cooler and wetter conditions during planting.  The early season warmth slowed and very cool early May conditions took over with soil temperatures falling below the critical 50 F level for development for several days.  After early May, dry conditions have been prevalent with most of the state below average precipitation accumulation over the last 30 days into early June. The dryness was beneficial in allowing planting to progress more readily and crops to develop. Rains returned in mid-June easing the dryness somewhat.

Precip dots

Drought in the Northern Plains and near 100 F heat in mid-June has created some concern about drought/heat conditions impacting crop condition.  At this point the extreme heat will have only a limited impact on crop yield.  The additional heat will be beneficial (to a certain extent) in helping overcome delayed crop development.

A Look Ahead

Looking ahead to the rest of the growing season is a bit difficult because summer precipitation projections are limited.  At this point, it doesn’t seem like the hot and dry of early June will stick around for the whole summer. There are some hints of hotter and drier conditions returning in July in Iowa and more of the Midwest.  However, current projections would not carry those into August.  Both July and August conditions are only slightly better than 50-50 chance of being accurate. Current NOAA outlooks indicate warmer than average temperatures more likely in July and July – August.  The 90 day outlooks have a small chance of above average temperatures in far northwest Iowa.

temp outlook 6-2017

The overall impact in Iowa and the Corn Belt is still developing.  The late planting of the eastern Corn Belt will be somewhat overcome by the current warm temperatures.  The northwest Corn Belt may see some problems with heat and drought because of the early June developing drought conditions.  Iowa is still a work in progress.  If the July heat does occur, some yield loss will be likely.  Overall yields in the Corn Belt have likely been trimmed because of the variety of problems.

Corn GDD Tracking

For anyone growing corn with questions where they are in GDD development, there is a tool from a recently-completed USDA NIFA-funded project that allows producers to check their crop progress daily based on Growing Degree Day accumulation.  The Corn GDD Tool allows a producer to pick their location, corn maturity and planting date. After choosing these the tool creates a plot of GDDs compared to average up to the previous day, a projection for the growing season GDD accumulation to tasseling and freeze date and comparison to selected analog years.  This tool is unique in its local data accumulation and projection of GDD accumulation through the year.


Farmers Must Come Together to Drive Farm Policy


A recent article written by Matthew Russell of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center provides some food for thought and discusses how farmers could benefit, both economically and politically, by adopting practices that address climate change. With a continued downturn in commodity prices that began in 2013, farmers might be more open to adding conservation practices to their operation to help their bottom line.

“Farmers are motivated by economic incentives to implement environmental practices. As an example, they recently enrolled nearly 400,000 acres in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program CP-42 which pays farmers to take land out of production and establish habitat for pollinators. Ironically, today we may need to embrace a source of revenue that just eight years ago seemed to many like regulatory overreach.”

Many of the conservation practices already being implemented in the U.S. such as cover crops, no-till, and extended crop rotations can increase soil carbon and address climate change. With higher adoption rates of these practices, and the exploration of new or improved practices designed to increase carbon in soils, farmers stand to profit. So, Russell inquires, will farmers rise to the challenge?

“Now American farmers face a choice. Do we want to explore ways of providing environmental services to fight climate change? Or will we sit back and allow farmers in other parts of the world to develop these agricultural solutions?”

Russell notes that The Paris Agreements and the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill are two opportunities for farmers to unite in support of policies that address climate change while also benefiting the individual farmer, especially as forward-thinking farmers are looking for creative ways to manage on-farm income.

Read the article here.

Julie Whitson

Iowa Climate Outlook for Spring: Wetter in the North; Drier in Southeast

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director, with timely climate information as we prepare for crop year 2017.

Planting season is quickly approaching, with field prep work and crop insurance dates for corn only days away.  Initial season concerns include the early spring progression from late winter warmth and its impact on alfalfa and soil N levels. The warm and wet conditions allow soil nitrogen to convert to nitrate, which can be easily lost. A late spring nitrate test would help determine if additional nitrogen is needed to meet crop demands.

As crop year 2017 begins, key factors to consider include:

Current Soil Conditions

Background precipitation issues for Iowa differ for northern versus southern Iowa.  Heavier rain fell across northern Iowa last fall producing wetter harvest conditions.  Some soil wetness issues are likely to carry over into the spring.  In contrast chunks of southern Iowa were much drier – not only in the fall but through the summer.  National soil moisture models currently support this difference in soil conditions indicating overall wetter north and drier in the far southeast.

Precipitation Outlook

While several current storms have produced more rain in southern Iowa, the focus on precipitation should again switch to northern Iowa.  The current 30 day April outlook and spring (April-June) outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has better chances for above average precipitation in northern Iowa.  Combining this rainfall potential with the carry-over wetness from the fall creates the highest risk for wetter planting conditions across the north.Precip Outlook 2017

Growing Season Outlook

Looking ahead to the rest of the growing season utilizes a few tools including the status of El Niño conditions and computer-based outlooks.  The current El Niño situation is neutral, but hinting toward El Niño conditions by late summer.  The switch to El Niño would reduce the risk of a poor growing season, but seems unlikely to start in time to affect the growing season.  The progress will be monitored through the season.

Drought Risk

Computer outlooks lean toward less chance of dry conditions across most of the state.  Thus, the overall drought risk seems fairly small at this point.  It should be noted that longer range precipitation outlooks are more difficult to assess.

Temperature Outlook

Temperature outlooks Iowa and the whole Midwest are likely warmer than average.  This is based mostly on recent trends of warmth in the summer, which has been driven by warmer overnight temperatures.  The risk of excessively high day temperatures seems lower at this point. 2017 Temp Outlook

Severe Weather Risk

Overall storminess would likely be increased along with more precipitation.  But the chances of severe weather currently are similar to climatology at this point.

A link to crop yield variability

Estimating crop yield is very important when constructing a farm operating budget.  Widening irregularity in harvested grain yield is making this process more challenging. So what is leading to this variability?

A recently released report from a research team at IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative reveals that historic climate variability accounts for nearly one-third of yield variability in the major food grain crops: corn, rice, wheat and soybeans.  They examined newly available global crop yield data from 1979-2008, along with rainfall and temperature data.

Their analysis revealed a variability of 32-39% between years which could be explained by the climate changes.  Globally, this is equivalent to about 24 tons of corn, 3.3 tons of rice, 10 tons of wheat, and 2.2 tons of soybeans.  Their analysis also revealed that the impact of climate variation is greatest in the world’s most productive regions such as the U.S. Midwest. More than 60% of the yield variability can be explained by climate variability in the midwestern states.

This relationship has a large impact on the issue of global food security – a great growing season can result in an excellent crop and adequate food supply in the market, but poor growing weather can strain the food grain market.


The connection between climate and yield variability differs around the world. It is strongest in the red areas and weakest in the light green and gray areas.

The research team has plans to expand their study to see what aspects of climate are more important to yield variability.  Understanding drivers of crop yield can help producers, farm managers, and policy makers target efforts to stabilize farmer income and food supply while boosting global food supply in a changing world.

Top 10 Webinars #9: Soil Conservation: The Foundation for Efficient Agriculture

November 2013 Screenshot

The last few posts in this Top 10 Most-Watched Webinars series have focused on specific agriculture and conservation practices. This time there’s a bigger-picture view in store, one that shows just how important it is to start changing practices in the first place. Today’s webinar is “Soil Conservation: The Foundation for Efficient Agriculture,” hosted by Jerry Hatfield, lab director of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

Here are some take-home points:

1. Food demand is increasing hugely … but land available for food production is decreasing, and agricultural lands everywhere show soil degradation.

2. Climate change isn’t a gradual uniform increase in temperature. It has different consequences in different situations, and a whole lot of those consequences look to be very dire indeed.

3. Resilience to changing climate will require good soils and good soil conservation, including cover crops and no-till.

Watch the webinar here.

– Alex Kirstukas