Midwest spring flooding forecast ‘hit and miss’
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Midwest spring flooding forecast ‘hit and miss’

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Grainery by pond

Ducks swim on a cloudy spring morning in the Beaver Creek area south of Valley Springs, S.D.

The spring flooding of 2019 isn’t far enough in the rear-view mirror for some folks in the Central Plains, and many are looking at flood potential for 2020. The difference between this year and last, however, is that locations most likely to experience flooding are a little harder to pinpoint.

Those potential flooding hotspots differ depending upon which forecaster you’re talking to and the various models they use to make predictions.

“There are some parts of the Corn Belt that are actually seeing a lower threat of flooding than others, which is what I think the big takeaway in the spring forecast should be,” said Nebraska-based forecaster Bryce Anderson from DTN. “For lack of a better way to put it, we’re seeing a more ‘sectorized’ flood picture than we were looking at during the spring of 2019.”

There are parts of the Upper Midwest that will likely see at least some flooding this spring, especially north of Interstate 90, Anderson said. Other areas further east into the Ohio River Valley, as well as the mid-and-lower Mississippi River Valley, and into Illinois, Indiana and Ohio will likely see some rainfall that could cause flood problems this spring.

Bryce Anderson

Bryce Anderson, Telvent DTN meteorologist estimates that U.S. farmers may have to harvest 300-400 million bushels of 2014 U.S. corn in the spring because of the early winter.

Other forecasters aren’t as convinced there will be widespread flooding like there was a year ago. Ryan Martin is the chief meteorologist for the Hoosier Ag Today Radio Network in the eastern Corn Belt. The long-time forecaster isn’t convinced that the level of flooding this year will come anywhere close to the disastrous level of 2019.

“The way things are looking right now, I’m not convinced we’re going to see the widespread flooding problems we had last year,” Martin said as March came to a close. “We have snowpack levels in many parts of rural America that are well under what they typically are. I think the area you’ll see the heaviest rainfall in is the southern Corn Belt, stretching down into the Missouri Valley.”

There will always be pockets of land that are too wet every spring in different parts of the country, Martin said. The Northern Plains region was too wet last fall, and the winter didn’t do farmers there a lot of favors, either.

“They’ll be a little slower and run behind the rest of the country when it comes to spring fieldwork,” Martin added. “Right now, I don’t see a huge amount of heavy rain coming in those areas over the next four-to-six weeks. I also don’t see a huge amount of rainfall moving over the Central Plains during that time either. It looks like rainfall in the Central Plains will be normal to slightly below.”

Anderson said there will indeed be some flooding in the Missouri River Valley. However, further west of that area into the plains, the flooding threat is nowhere near as ominous as it was a year ago.

“There are some areas likely to have some problems this year, but it won’t be everyone like it was a year ago,” Anderson said.

Spring rainfall will ultimately determine the extent of 2020 flooding.

“One area that won’t be a lot of fun to work in is near the James River in eastern North and South Dakota,” Anderson added. “The James has been in flood stage for a full year now. There’s also the probability of some minor flooding in the Red River Valley this spring as well.”

With lower prospects for major flooding in 2020, he’s hoping the forecast will offer producers a little bit of optimism going into the spring planting season.

“Overall, there will be some flooding this spring,” Anderson said. “it’s just not going to be as widespread as last year.”

Martin said a normal amount of precipitation this spring will make farmers in the wetter areas “cringe a little bit,” but as long as there aren’t any gully washers in those areas, he doesn’t see much of an issue compared to last year.

“Last year’s flooding was spurred more by heavy rains and snowmelt,” Martin said. “Nebraska just had round after round of heavy rainfall that really got the flooding going in a big way after a lot of snow in the winter.

“Is it too wet in some spots, of course,” Martin added. “We haven’t seen the problems build through the winter and into the early stages of spring like we did a year ago. If we can keep the temps above normal and evaporate at least some of the excess moisture, we’ll be able to handle a normal level of precipitation.”

Chad Smith writes regularly for the Midwest Messenger from his home in Minnesota. Reach him at editorial@midwestmessenger.com

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