By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader: a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean checkoff
A global assessment of the weather showed 2020 to be the second warmest year since 1880. The warmest average year was 2016, and 2019 ranked third. Looking all the way back to 1880, the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1985.
The most recent Winter Outlook Meeting, hosted by The Ohio State University, provided data and information to help farmers make informed decisions going into the winter and spring. Aaron Wilson, Atmospheric Scientist at OSU and state climatologist shared information focused on “Where we’ve been, where we are currently, and where we are going.”
There was also a significant increase in the number of “billion dollar disasters” in 2020. There was a total of 22 recorded last year. The numbers in general have been increasing. To put it in perspective, looking at the time period of 1908 through 2020, the average is six disasters of that magnitude per year. In the 10-year period of 2008 through 2017, these disasters have included: flooding, flash flooding, hurricanes, heavy rain events, heavy snow events, and tornados. Also making the list were tsunamis and wildfires.
Water is the primary weather disaster issue in Ohio, including both big rain events and also droughts. Records show that it is also getting warmer on average. For Ohio, 2020 was 11th warmest average year from March through November. 2020 started with a relatively average winter, followed by a very cold April and May. The state the experienced record heat in July, and there was a drought in Northwest Ohio. This was an extreme after much of that region was too wet to plant in 2019.
The rainfall in 2020 pretty close to average. Much of the state was above average from March through November with an exception in Northwest Ohio. There were also drought conditions in Iowa in 2020.
“Ohio is now in the heart of winter,” Wilson said. “The average temperatures should start rising from this point. This past week, temperatures were 24 degrees above average in Minnesota. This past winter we have had average temperatures up to 8 degrees above average for the winter.”
Over the last 30 days, Northwest Ohio is still below average for measured precipitation. “Looking at the last 7, 30, and 60 days, the average precipitation across the state and Eastern Corn Belt is below average,” Wilson said. “Many areas are 50% to 75% below normal. So far, we have experienced a warm, dry winter. It is not what we discussed back in October.”
An important part of winter weather is snow.
“Most of the snow in the U.S. is currently is in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” Wilson said. “The polar vortex has mostly been shifted to Siberia. Until we get a snow pack, we will not likely see a sustained cold period because the ground warms in the sun. We can still see some cold outbreaks and more snow yet this winter. The snow is needed to help replenish drought areas when it melts in the spring across the great plains and Midwest.”
Much of the west and southwestern U.S. experienced one of their warmest and driest years in 2020.
“Generally, we see drought conditions in a large expanse of the country, especially in the west, Wilson said. “We also see it in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and parts of Ohio. If we remain dry could become more of a severe concern moving from abnormally dry to drought. It bears watching since we have so far had a dry winter.”
Current U.S. Drought Monitor shows the Northwest part of Ohio as abnormally dry.
“The question is how much will the drought out west shift to the east,” Wilson said. “There are also abnormally dry conditions to the south in Kentucky and Tennessee that could shift up.”
We anticipated in the fall, a warmer than normal, but not the as dry winter,” Wilson said. “Now looking ahead, we may see much cooler air coming in short term, and a nice precipitation maker in the south. We are not sure where the rain/snow line will be, but it could give good rain to areas that need it.”
The next week is expected to experience seasonally cool, high temperatures.
“This may be a sign of switching to a more active pattern,” Wilson. “We have not seen the La Niña pattern kick in yet since the prediction this fall. La Niña typically brings wetter than average conditions, especially after the first of the year. Looking at a past combination of La Niña events, our temperatures tend to be warmer than average, and precipitation tends to be greater and increasing.”
Though February 3rd, for much of Central U.S. into the Ohio Valley, there is an elevated probability of warmer than average temperatures, and near average to slightly below average precipitation. Looking further into February, we can expect a greater probability of above average temperatures and an increased probability of above average precipitation, particularly in west and Northwest Ohio.
Looking at February through April, there is a high confidence of above average temperatures and more precipitation in Indiana and Western Ohio thru March and April.
“It looks to be an active pattern,” Wilson said. “May through July, has an elevated probability of above average temperatures and precipitation.”
Based on the science he is sees, Wilson believes that Ohio will have recovered by spring the moisture that is needed. Temperature trends show that seasonal temperatures have been warming in the spring, and are warmer in summer for northern Ohio, and warmer for all of Ohio in the fall. Autumn night temperatures have increased 4 to 5 degrees in the fall, which pushes back early freezes to later dates.
“In Fulton County, we have increased 10 to 20 days between the last spring freeze and first fall freeze,” Wilson said. “We are also seeing overall increases in precipitation. There are regional differences in the state, but the fall is seeing the strongest trend in increased precipitation. July is seeing a drying trend in much of Indiana and Ohio. In the period from April through October, we have lost, on average, five suitable working days for field work. However, in month of June, we have seen an increase in suitable days for fieldwork.”