Massive Runoff from Frozen Midwest Fields

January 31, 2013

Midwest farms were hit with heavy rainfall early this week,  but frozen fields may have prevented rain from replenishing dry soils.  

Chicago reported a record high of 63 degrees F Tuesday, but the “heat wave” in Illinois was preceded by a harsh cold wave the previous week.     This suggests that fields were still frozen, when very heavy rainfall developed.  Northern Illinois received 2.5-3 inches of rainfall that probably ran off into ditches and streams.

Even though temperatures were above normal in January minimum temperatures were still below freezing.


Wildly fluctuating temperatures have been the rule this winter.     Midwest farms that began thawing on Tuesday froze again last night with temperatures in the single digits and teens F:

Topsoil in the corn belt was frozen at midday:


Massive Runoff

Besides Illinois very  heavy rainfall developed also in southeastern Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana, at least one inch of rainfall, but up to 2 inches in locally strong showers.    Massive run-off is suspected.   There is a  bright side to the heavy runoff.    Dale Durchholz of AgriVisor notes shippers on the Mississippi River are delighted.  The river gauge at St Louis this week is expected to rise from minus 2 feet to plus 5 feet.


It is a missed opportunity for soil moisture replenishment.  Farms in Iowa and northern Illinois are extremely dry from prolonged drought previously.  The dry soil conditions have persisted in the wake of severe summer drought.   The worst drought is in  Nebraska, Minnesota and northwest Iowa, where soil moisture deficits have accrued to 5 to 7 inches. 


Replenishment of the subsoil is important for corn prospects,  since stored ground moisture provides insurance against summer drought.  Deep rooted corn taps into subsoil moisture during periods of hot, dry weather.  Replenishment of soil moisture occurs in the off-season, after corn is harvested and before the new crop is planted in the next spring.


Dry Forecast 

Conditions are expected to remain dry over a broad area of central United States,  while periods of snow showers occur in the Great Lakes and Eastern Midwest this week:


The dry forecast is especially detrimental  for developing hard red winter wheat.  The 3 top bread wheat states Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are expecting no rain.   Strong warming is predicted on the weekend, further adding to moisture stress.   West Texas temperatures are predicted to reach the low 60s F, and 20 degrees above normal.


The forecast rather resembles a winter La Nina, very cold in the Upper Midwest from a trough in the polar jet stream, and dry across the Southern Great Plains.




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