Soggy 2018 sets records

By Matt Reese

Looking back on the previous year, I think I spent more time in 2018 outside in the precipitation than any year I can remember, probably more than the last 5 years combined. Remember those wild April snows? I do. Then, of course, there were steady rains with occasional deluges throughout the growing season and the soggiest autumn harvest in recent memory that kept combines out of the fields and the crops in them for much longer than usual. In 2018, there was not really a spring or a fall. It just went from long, cold, snowy winter to wet, muggy summer to soggy, muddy winter.

Vowing to avoid more time spent in the rain, I waited until fairly late in the day on Dec. 31 to go for one last 2018 4-mile run. The rain had finally stopped around 3:30 or so and it looked like the skies cleared a bit by around 4 p.m. I laced up my running shoes and took to the roads. About a quarter mile in, it started to sprinkle. After about a mile the heavy rain began, but I kept on for the intended distance. Soaked: 2018, you rascal, you got me again.

Anyone involved with agriculture was acutely aware of the plentiful precipitation in 2018, with some places seeing records broken. At the John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, last year saw a total of 55.18 inches of precipitation, breaking the 2011 record of 54.96. The average rainfall in Columbus is 39.31 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Of the 10 wettest years in Columbus, four have occurred since 2000 — 2018 (first), 2011 (second), 2004 (fourth), and 2003 (eighth). Four other top 10 wet years in Columbus took place between 1882 and 1890.

It wasn’t just central Ohio was that was soggy. Most of the state had precipitation levels that were well above normal. Cincinnati had its third highest rainfall total at 55.9 inches and Dayton had its tenth wettest year with 49.99 inches of precipitation in 2018, according to the National Weather Service. Cleveland was also well above average precipitation last year.

A combination of factors led to the wet conditions in Ohio and much of the eastern U.S., said AccuWeather Meteorologist Kyle Elliott.

“An abnormally strong Bermuda high pressure system prevented cold fronts from diving southward out of Canada and into the eastern United States as is typically the case every couple of weeks from July through September,” Elliott said. “As a result, storm systems basically came to a standstill for days on end in the eastern half of the nation.

“In addition, three tropical systems (Florence, Gordon and Michael) impacted a large portion of the East. Gordon and Florence slowed down significantly once they made landfall, which allowed these systems to dump extreme amounts of rain over several days.”

Aaron Wilson, climate specialist with Ohio State University Extension and the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, pointed out the early September the remnants of Hurricane Gordon moved across Ohio triggering upward of 8 inches of rain in southern Ohio. While October rainfall was closer to average for the state (with drier conditions early and wet conditions later in the month) November was not good for getting much harvesting done. During the last week of November, about a half million

Photo by Lea Kimley.

acres of soybeans still had to be harvested across the state.

“Ohio is not an anomaly,” Wilson said. “It fits the trend toward increased precipitation that we’ve seen across the Midwest and the Northeast.”

Temperatures are getting warmer, and there is a higher amount of water vapor is in the atmosphere, which leads to increased precipitation, Wilson said.

“We’re seeing more intense rainfall events and more overall annual precipitation,” he said.

This, of course, has implications for Ohio agriculture. Many individual farms had yields better than or near their best ever. Heading into the final January report, the average yields of both soybeans and corn are projected to surpass the state’s previous record highs. Soybeans, which are estimated to average 60 bushels per acre, are expected to top last year’s average by 19%, and the 190 bushel-per-acre average for Ohio corn is up 11% from 2017’s average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The major exception to the sogginess of 2018 was a well-timed dry spell for much of Ohio in late April and early May, allowing for ideal planting conditions and uniform crop emergence to get the season off to a great start in many areas. After that, the moisture and warm temperatures during the growing season kept crops growing well, but also pushed diseases to yield-limiting levels in fields around the state, particularly in southern Ohio. This impacted 2018 but also could cause problems in 2019 with seed quality. Laura Lindsey, Ohio State University Extension soybean specialist, advised growers to pay attention to the germination rate of their seed this spring when planting and adjust population rates accordingly.

Anyone trying to make hay in 2018 will certainly not soon forget the challenges with the rain. For those with livestock, all I can say is, “I’m sorry.” The mud is plentiful and it can make managing animals on pasture or in feedlots a real challenge. OSU Extension Specialist Steve Boyles published research that found dewclaw deep mud or manure in a feedlot situation can reduce animal performance by 7% in beef cattle. When mud and manure get hock deep, the reduction is 28%, according to Stan Smith, with OSU Extension in Fairfield County.

I, for one, had my fill of spending time outside in the rain in 2018 and I know many in agriculture feel similarly. Yet, at the same time, it is really hard to complain about the rain that made for a really great growing season and a successful year for crop production.

So, thanks for the rains 2018. Now, I guess, it’s time to put on some dry socks and press on.


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