Aaron Wilson

A look at the weather now that spring has sprung

By Matt Reese

Many months of preparation have gone into preparing for Ohio’s planting season that will finally be taking place throughout the next few weeks. Farmers will be working hard to make the most of planting opportunities in what has so far been a cold, soggy spring.

Ohio’s soils remain on the wet side after an unusual winter.

“The winter was kind of strange. There was a lot of variability,” said Aaron Wilson, Research Scientist with the Byrd Center and State Climate Office of Ohio and Ohio State University Extension climate specialist. “We had a very warm December with record highs on Christmas Day. Cincinnati hit 69 degrees for the warmest Christmas day ever back to 1871. We had soil temperatures in Central and Southern Ohio in the low to mid 50s by Jan. 2, but then January got really cold. It was the 35th coldest January on record. It was a fairly dry January as well. In February, the jet stream kicked in and we had the sixth wettest February on record for a lot of the state. Six counties — Franklin, Fayette, Madison, Champaign, Clark, Guernsey — all had their wettest Februarys on record. We had 6 to 8 inches of precipitation through Southern Ohio. Some places were over 9 inches. February ended up around average for temperature. It turned out to be a wetter than average winter. It was in the top portion of the warmest, though it was certainly variable. Overall, conditions are pretty saturated coming out of winter.”

Now that spring has sprung, Ohio is likely to stay on the wet side for planting season.

“We have a La Niña pattern, which means sea surface temperatures off the coast of South America are cooler than average. This creates a situation where the jet stream gets amplified over western North America and cold air spills over the Northern Plains. It has been very cold in North Dakota this winter. It causes a very active jet stream over the Ohio valley. We are almost always wet during La Niña conditions. We are going to remain active. April, May and June look wetter than average leaning to likely above average moisture according to the Climate Prediction Center. Even the first part of summer heading into June could be wetter than average,” Wilson said. “Then we will transition to what we have been seeing, which is a July, August and September where conditions are starting to dry out. Then La Niña will start to wane and the wet signal will shift off to the east as we get into the heart of summer time and into fall harvest.” 

This pattern of wetter springs and dry periods in the summer, with more intense rainfall events, seems likely to continue long term.

“If you look at the top 10 warmest years in Ohio’s history, nine of the top 10 warmest have all occurred since 1990. It is not warmer all the time, but it has been warmer than average. Last year was our driest spring since 2013. We came into spring with dry soils and we warmed up very fast. We have soggier soils this year and that limits how quickly the temperatures rise,” Wilson said. “The two seasons we are seeing the biggest increase in precipitation are winter and spring. We are seeing heavier rainfall events too. From the long-term perspective, we are going to be consistently challenged with wetter winters and springs and then dry in July and August. Longer term trends are moving Ohio towards a longer growing season with more pest and disease pressure and more intense rainfalls.”

The key for farmers in Ohio moving forward  will be adapting to the challenges of ever-changing weather patterns and finding ways to capitalize on the opportunities created. There will inevitably be both difficulties to overcome and opportunities to seize. Sorting all of this out should be just about as easy as predicting the weather.    

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