Milder winter predicted for Midwest, but drought effects to linger

The United States Midwest is predicted to have a milder than usual winter, with the effects of the severe summer drought likely to linger for months, according to experts.

The drought conditions that have gripped many parts of the US have proved trying for livestock owners, with dwindling forage and soaring feed prices combining in a perfect storm with the current tough economic times.

While some rain has hit the parched earth, the central United States is still suffering from severe drought.

Now, a University of Missouri atmospheric sciences expert from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources  predicts a mild and slightly warmer than normal winter this year, and a soil scientist from the university says that the drought’s effects will linger for months to come.

“Currently, we’re experiencing a very weak El Niño in the central Pacific, which typically indicates a warmer and less intense winter,” said Anthony Lupo, professor and chair of the Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences.

“I think we’ll get a nice snow in November, but because the El Niño is so weak, our precipitation will either be at, or slightly below, average.”

Normal rainfall is about 6 inches from December through February, with 20 inches of snow.

Lupo is predicting that the Midwest will experience between 4.75 and 6 inches of rainfall and about 15 inches of snow this winter.

Lupo says there is the potential for very cold, dry weather, but that would depend on a trough sitting over the central United States, and at this time, he is not predicting that will happen.

El Niño and La Niña refer to periodic warming and cooling, respectively, of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. Both trends can lead to extreme weather, such as floods and droughts, in many regions around the world.

El Niño typically results in a dry period in the Midwest, while La Niña typically causes a wet period.

Unfortunately, if Lupo’s precipitation prediction is correct, it will not be enough to reach deep into the soil, according to Randy Miles, an associate professor of soil science at the university.

“If the soil five feet under the surface remains dry, we won’t have moisture for plants late in the growing season next year,” Miles said.

“It takes a long time to recharge this sub-soil, especially after the drought we experienced.

“While the rains we have had have been very helpful, the water has not moved down to that level. Right now, we are very vulnerable to losing the moisture through evaporation. With warm, sunny and windy days, it’s very easy for the moisture to evaporate.”

In the last 12 months, the central US has received 29.38 inches of precipitation. Over the last 30 years, rainfall has averaged about 40 inches per year.

Miles said that a good snow pack and significant humidity would help keep the moisture in the soil and help it absorb into the ground.

“We had a similar issue this past year. The crops came up and looked good, but they had nothing to tap into when it got dry later,” Miles said.

“Nutrient balance in the soil also can change with a lack of moisture, because moisture can help with decomposition of biological materials, which provides nutrients in the soil. Water also is an important transporter of nutrients to plant roots.”

Miles said that homeowners should watch their foundation walls this spring. When spring rains come, the soil could produce intense pressure against the walls, leading to cracking in the foundation.


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