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Strong winds, moisture shortages in North America

Incredibly strong wind speeds have been recorded periodically across the US Plains and Canada’s Prairies this spring.

Some of the wind has been so severe that recently planted canola in the Prairies has been blown right out of the ground. Moisture shortages are becoming more of a concern and the success of replanted canola, wheat, corn and soybeans will be largely determined by rainfall in the next few weeks from the northern Plains into eastern Canada’s Prairies.

Winter brought bouts of notable coolness to the Canadian Prairies and northern US Plains this year, resulting in a slow start to the spring growing season. Farmers finally got into their fields during May only to find low relative humidity and many windier days than usual plaguing the spring fieldwork. Moisture was present in the soil from last autumn’s storminess that brought some blizzard conditions and rain during the harvest season that ended up leaving some 2019 crops in the fields all winter.


Weather conditions improved enough this spring for unharvested crops to be retrieved from the fields and some aggressive planting to follow. However, many areas in the heart of Canada’s Prairies went through the bulk of winter with little to no snowfall, and that allowed frost to get deep into the ground, further delaying the start of the 2020 growing season. But, conditions finally improved enough to support fieldwork, and all was moving along relatively well until recent bouts of high winds impacted the region.

Days upon days of windy conditions were noted in the Canada Prairies with some of that extending into the northern US Plains at times. The wind became progressively drier, and as the air and ground lost moisture wilder temperature swings began to occur. Parts of the Prairies experienced a few days of 80- and lower 90-degree heat just before frost and freezes returned to the region in early to mid-May and the pattern was repeated again in late May. The last time winds blew so constantly across the Prairies and northern US Plains was when those areas were in the midst of drought.  That realization brought more concern to producers in the region who noted that some areas had not seen good rainfall since last autumn’s bigger storms passed.

Not all of the Prairies are drying down. Some areas in western and northern Alberta have been undated by three large storm systems producing heavy rainfall over ground that was already wet from the past few years of wet biased conditions. A fourth storm was affecting a part of the Prairies at the time of this publishing.

In the meantime, dryness was quite persistent in the southwestern US Plains during the autumn, winter and spring. Drought emerged in a part of the west-central and southwestern Plains from eastern Colorado and western Kansas into a part of the Texas Panhandle. That area of dryness has been expanding in recent weeks, threatening unirrigated crops in the region. Hard red winter wheat production was cut in some of the region because of that dryness and in part due to late season freezes that occurred as crops were approaching reproduction.

More recently, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has suggested drought is expanding in the southwestern and west-central Plains and also developing in the drier areas of the northern Plains. Dryness also has been identified by Mexico in a large part of its northeast and some interior southern crop areas, and the Canadian weather service has suggested drought conditions are still prevailing in eastern Canada’s Prairies and in particular across part of eastern Saskatchewan.

These areas of dryness must be relieved soon because an expected mid-summer ridge of high pressure is due to set up over the US Plains and Canada’s south-central Prairies. The predicted ridge of high pressure may grow larger and stronger than advertised because of these areas of dryness that are already present. A strong ridge of high pressure could translate the tolerable weather of this spring into a more significant bout of dryness and drought during the heart of summer. The next few weeks will prove to be very important in determining the prospects for drought and production cuts in the central parts of North America. Most of the long range modeling done recently has predicted dryness for the central and southern Plains, southwestern US Corn Belt, Delta and Tennessee River Basin this summer, but not necessarily in the northern US Plains or eastern Canada’s Prairies.

Certainly the trend in recent weeks toward decreasing soil moisture, warmer-than-usual temperatures and bouts of strong wind are suggestive that changes to wetter weather may be more challenging in parts of the northern Plains and Canada’s Prairies as time moves along. It will be imperative that relief from dryness occurs in the balance of June, or July could turn out to be a more punishing month of weather not only in the US Plains and Canada’s Prairies, but in the western US Corn Belt as well. A stronger ridge of high pressure in the central part of North America would likely inhibit rain in the western parts of the US Midwest, as well.

There is certainly good reason to be more closely monitoring these areas for possible expanding dryness, but as of today there is no “crisis” and production potentials for wheat, canola, corn, soybeans, dry beans and lentils remain favorably high. Another couple of missed storms like those of early June, however, could change the situation greatly and a close monitoring is warranted.

In the meantime, dryness is returning to central and eastern Ukraine while prevailing in Russia’s Southern Region. There is also some talk about possible drying in a part of Russia’s New Lands. None of these areas are any more seriously dry than those in Canada and the northern US Plains, but similar to North America their recent drying trends and those expected into late June will perpetuate these trends, which may lead to a growing level of interest and concern over production potentials in 2020.

Dryness that was once a concern for the United Kingdom, Germany and France has been eased in recent weeks along with a region of dryness in east-central China. Recent rain in all of these areas has removed fear over developing drought, but that might have only been temporary, and a close watch on these areas is warranted as well as that in North America, Russia and Ukraine.


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