The early spring floodwaters, exacerbated by record precipitation events, have finally started to recede.
But don’t take off your muck boots yet. According to Extension State Climatologist Laura Edwards with South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension, the wet weather is going to stick around for a while.
“For April and even through May and June, right now the outlook shows increased chances of wetter than average weather,” Edwards says.
Moisture creates another issue, however. “It takes a lot more energy to warm air that’s above moist soils, and so you kind of get this feedback loop, we call it, where you’ve got cool soils that encourage more humidity and more rain.”
“As far as temperature goes, we don’t see any consistent warmth until later summer into fall.”
According to Edwards, the soil is thawing in southeastern South Dakota but is still frozen in areas in the northern part of the state. “Some of our weather stations are showing that the soil is starting to thaw out, but it is saturated all through the profile,” she says.
“One of the hazards or risks is, as we get into the wettest time of the year, in April, May and early June, any rain on top of what we have is going to run off,” she says. “There’s nowhere in that soil for it to go, so that’s the challenging part. We’re already dealing with saturated soils, and any more rain that we get just won’t be able to infiltrate very deep, if at all.”
“I think it’s fair to expect some late planting,” she adds. “It’s going to be slow going this spring.”
Late Summer Warmth
The good news is that August, September and October look a little warmer than average.
“The outlook right now for that three-month period is slightly warmer,” she says. “And they kind of back off from that wetter pattern, so we would see more equal chances of wet, dry or near average for moisture.”
“Keep in mind, though, that our long-term climate trend is wetter falls,” Edwards says. “We saw that last year, where we had a very wet fall across the corn-growing region.”
Edwards notes that last year’s growing season was fairly cool but yields were still good. “I wouldn’t throw it all out the window right now, but certainly it’s not without challenges,” she says.
If the weather seems wetter in general, that’s because South Dakota has been getting wetter faster than almost anywhere else in the country.
“We’re about 15 to 20 percent wetter now than we were 50 or 60 years ago,” Edwards says.
“Looking at eastern South Dakota, that’s maybe five more inches of rain each year,” she says. “And it’s coming mostly in the spring and fall, which is causing us a lot of these logistics issues when we get into planting and harvest season.”
The increased moisture is beneficial for some farmers, however. “It’s helping expand the corn-growing region westward. It’s making those environments more favorable for corn production.”
Edwards says we’re in a weak El Nino weather pattern right now, but research shows that weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean don’t affect us much. “We’ve done some work trying to tie El Nino and La Nina to corn yield, and it really doesn’t tell us a whole lot. It’s not a big factor,” she says.
Edwards suggests that farmers check the SDSU Extension website periodically in the next few months. “We’ll be putting out information on soil management, saturated soils and planting and other issues as they unfold this spring season,” she says.