Weather or Not: Looking Ahead to the 2020 Growing Season

February 6, 2020

This coming year does not look as difficult as this year, but I don’t think we’ll be flipping the switch, either, to a drier trend.”

This message from Bryce Anderson, DTN’s senior ag meteorologist, was delivered at the South Dakota Soybean Association’s annual AgOutlook event, held on December 5 in Sioux Falls. He titled his presentation “The Reign of Rain,” which accurately depicts what we all experienced in the challenging year that was 2019.

“The situation we’ve got ourselves in is not going to completely reverse itself,” Anderson added, referring to the excess moisture all across farm country.

Will we experience rainfall amounts to the same extent we saw last year?

“I don’t think so, but we are still likely to have that feature (rain) be a part of things in the coming year,” Anderson stated.

Global trends are impacting our region

Anderson pointed to trends on the global stage that are influencing our weather patterns here.

From January to October 2019, world temps were

1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, the second warmest in recorded history. Even though a few areas – including the North Atlantic and here on the northern Plains – were slightly colder than usual, the global temperature hike has been enough to cause declines in Arctic sea ice.

He noted that research is ongoing, but when you have this type of reduction in the difference between temperatures in the higher latitudes and lower latitudes, “the jet stream impact is noticeable.” Rather than a “normal” polar jet stream track, the pattern becomes more wavy. This wavy pattern can lead to cold-weather

outbreaks and polar vortex events like the “bomb cyclone” we experienced last March. After that spring storm, our weather patterns seemed to become stuck in a wet cycle.

According to Anderson’s presentation at AgOutlook, DTN is predicting a winter with consistent northern cold and generally below-normal temps for much of the northern Corn Belt.

“It does indicate to me that we’re going to have a slow start to fieldwork this spring,”Anderson concluded.

Wet spring / fall pattern may stay

As Anderson accurately describes, the above-normal precipitation on “book ends” of our crop seasons – spring and fall – is very problematic for growers.

“We have a heavy precipitation tendency that’s part of our scene right now,” he added. “This active pattern does not show a lot of major changes at this point.”

DTN’s spring forecast – precipitation

DTN’s spring forecast – temperature

As difficult as the news is to hear, other experts also agree that this cool, wet cycle is our reality for the time being.

Dennis Todey, director of the USDA Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, Iowa, tells us that his data from the National Weather Service (NWS) Climate Prediction Center shows a risk of a cooler and wetter spring with a slightly increased chance for wetness into summer.

“Given current soil conditions and the increased likelihood of precipitation this winter, we have definite concerns about field work progress in the spring,” Todey commented. “The risk of additional precipitation exists into the early and mid-spring of 2020. We are not guaranteeing delays, but the risk is definitely there.”

Although he and his colleagues are not specifically forecasting a repeat of 2019, he notes that the soil conditions will be similar as we enter 2020 and some farmers may still have standing crops to contend with when the weather does break.

In the near term, Todey expects this weather pattern to stay with us.

“We have seen more frequent springs with above- average moisture, in South Dakota and adjacent states particularly,” he added. “There is variability year-to-year that cannot always be forecast, but the overall frequency of precipitation events seems likely, with periodic major drought events tossed in.”

“Drought” seems an out-of-place word in this conversation, but Todey points out that parts of the central and eastern Corn Belt did indeed experience mid-season dryness last summer. It was severe enough in some areas to cause yield losses. As Todey says, these precipitation trends are “exactly opposite of what we need from a crop-use perspective.”

Though Todey accurately points out the dryness that other parts of the Corn Belt experienced mid-summer 2019, DTN’s long- range forecast for summer 2020 does not – at this time, anyway – show lack of rainfall. Speaking at AgOutlook, Anderson said the current data points to an active, wet pattern for our region this summer.

“Through the summer it does not look like we’ll lack in rainfall to bring the crop along,” Anderson commented.

In the face of these weather-pattern struggles, Todey encourages giving some serious thought to how to best deal with these trends.

“We definitely need to have serious discussions about what and how we are growing, to make sure that we can be productive with the land we use and not degrade it in the process of using it for production,” Todey advised.

The mission of USDA’s regional Climate Hubs is to develop and deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies, with USDA agencies and partners, to agricultural and natural resource managers that enable climate-informed decision- making, and to provide access to assistance to implement those decisions. Learn more at