Indiana spring: First warm and wet, then drying possible

February 26, 2013  


Wabash River

The Wabash River at Lafayette, Ind., looked back to normal in February after much runoff from rain and snow over the winter following months of drought that lowered its levels and slowed its flow. Forecasters expect above-normal rainfall in the spring. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Keith Robinson)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Indiana farmers could be in for a warm and wet early spring when they head into the fields to plant their crops, the Indiana State Climate Office says. But they also could expect a return to drought in some parts of the state during the growing season.

“It will be warmer and wetter to start the planting season,” said Dev Niyogi, state climatologist, based at Purdue University. “This is expected to turn to some drying in the growing season, leading to mild to moderate drought conditions across Indiana.”

He said areas of the state particularly susceptible to drought again are the southern, west and southwest counties.

But the question for now is how wet of an early spring farmers can expect as they prepare to plant their corn and soybean crops.

The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts a wetter-than-normal spring in the Great Lakes region from Wisconsin south to Tennessee and east into Ohio, an area that includes Indiana. Soil moisture has been improving in this region.

The CPC’s outlook for March through May in Indiana is for precipitation about 2.5 inches above normal. That is a state average; precipitation would vary by location.

Last year during the same three months, Indiana’s precipitation fell 4.19 inches short of normal, according to an analysis by the climate office. Extremely dry conditions then set in, leading to widespread drought that continued into the fall.

Indiana and most of the eastern Corn Belt states have had enough precipitation in recent months to eliminate drought, although 13 of Indiana’s extreme northern counties still have abnormally dry conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought persists in the Great Plains states, some still enduring exceptional drought, the monitor’s highest level of dryness.

Precipitation in the early spring in Indiana is more likely to be in the form of rain than snow because temperatures from March through May are expected to be about 2 degrees above normal, the climate office said. Rain can be more efficient than snow in adding moisture to soil.

Last year for the same period, temperatures were 7.3 degrees above normal, and there was little rain. Planting conditions were so favorable that some farmers got into their fields in March to plant corn. Planting of that crop typically begins in mid-April when there is less chance of a destructive freeze. Soybeans usually follow a couple of weeks later.

Lack of rain in the spring hindered development of corn and soybean crops as drought conditions began to worsen. In addition, fruit crops such as apples, peaches, grapes and strawberries developed rapidly because of the unseasonably warm weather, and garden plants bloomed early.

Writer: Keith Robinson, 765-494-2722, robins89@purdue.edu

Sources: Dev Niyogi, 765-494-6574, climate@purdue.edu

Ken Scheeringa, 765-494-8105, kens@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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