Frozen Ground Threatens to Delay Planting in U.S. North

Frozen ground and snowpack threaten to delay corn planting in the northern U.S., while a lack of rain in California means drought conditions there will persist and the odds of wildfires will rise, forecasters said.

Snow still covers many fields from Minnesota to Michigan, and in some places frost reaches down 5 or 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) into the soil, said Brad Rippey, a U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist in Washington.

“Soils are going to be slow to warm, so I think we are facing prospect of delayed planting issues across the northern corn belt,” Rippey said on a conference call with reporters as the U.S. released its weather and flooding outlooks today, the first day of spring. “At this time, there are no real great concerns for crop reduction due to late planting.”

Conditions to the south may be better, Rippey said.

Seasonal rains are expected to improve drought conditions from Iowa and Missouri and across Nebraska, Kansas and eastern Oklahoma, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said in its three-month outlook. Much of that region is either suffering from drought or is classified as abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“I think things will be more toward normal,” said Jon Gottschalck, head of forecast operations at the climate center in College Park, Maryland. “Normal precipitation you would see in the springtime.”

Western Drought

In California and much of the western U.S. including Texas, drought is expected to persist or worsen, according to the center. Temperatures in that region will probably be above normal from April through June. California has an above-average chance of less rain than normal, affecting agriculture and the chance of wildfires, Gottschalck said.

Rivers in half of the continental U.S. are at risk for moderate spring flooding, Gottschalck said.

“The continuation of winter weather along with above-average snow pack, frozen ground and thick ice cover on streams and rivers will delay spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest through New England,” Gottschalck said. “Once the thaw begins, minor to moderate flooding is likely, with the severity of the flooding being driven by the pace of the snow melt and the intensity of the spring rainfall.”

The worst flooding may occur in the southern parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, Gottschalck said. The Illinois River and parts of the Mississippi in Iowa are most at risk.

The Red River of the North, which flows through Fargo, North Dakota, may also flood. Gottschalck said there is chance of ice jams exacerbating flooding from the northern Great Plains to New England.

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