The weather story of 2022 was drought. At a minimum, 44% of the country was covered in drought, and last year marked the largest contiguous U.S. drought footprint since 2012.
Luckily La Niña, which drove much of that dryness is gone, says Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist for Nutrien Ag. Now, the question is will the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) stay neutral, avoiding La Niña or El Niño biases?
“If it stays neutral, seasonal factors take over,” Snodgrass says. “A neutral pattern is a net positive side for most of the corn and soybean belts, since we won’t go into the spring building a drought. If we are ENSO neutral, then some of that risk is off the table.”
But drought could still be a problem in certain regions. Snodgrass says areas such as the Missouri River Valley, Mississippi River Basin and Ohio River Valley are still showing significant soil moisture deficits at 40″ deep.
“If we don’t correct soil moisture issues at 40″ before May, we are still vulnerable to drought, regardless of if La Niña is completely gone — that’s our biggest risk factor,” he says. “However, spring rains can undo all of winter’s sins.”
Winter is not the high precipitation time frame for many portions of farm country, Snodgrass says. One spring storm system can deliver the same amount of soil moisture as all the snowfall during the winter.
In terms of planting windows, the big question this spring is severe weather. “Given the momentum in the jet stream and above average snowpack in the West, the severe weather season could be active in the Plains, Midwest, South, Midsouth and Southeast this spring,” Snodgrass says.
Drought Outlook: East Versus West
While drought has been erased in much of the East, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) expects the western half of the country to see dry areas expand through May. Spring storms can bring heavy rain to the Plains due to increased moisture availability, while melting snowpacks provide a source for soil moisture recharge. CPC is predicting above-average precipitation for the Midwest and Great Lakes region this spring, which should shrink lingering drought areas.
Sara Schafer uses her Missouri farm roots to cover crop management, business topics, farmland and more.