Farm Horizons, February 2003

Strange brew of weather keeps farmers guessing

By Lynda Jensen

Local farmers who were looking at drowned crops last summer and a heavy, wet harvest may now be wondering what nature will serve for 2003.

Extreme conditions caused many to scratch their heads before, but now the dry winter is actually being classified as a drought, according to McLeod/Meeker Extension Agent Joe Neubauer.

Most farmers are concerned about the lack of snow cover to protect their alfalfa crop, and the need for good, quality hay, commented seed dealer and farmer Mark Diers.

The general lack of moisture during the winter is not a problem, commented Howard Lake farmer Sean Groos.

"I'm not too concerned about it yet," he said. Farmers will need rains in March and April, not necessarily snowfall, for moisture, he said.

Should the drought continue into the spring, farmers might want to conserve their hay supplies, avoid overworking fields in the spring, and pay close attention to weed control, Neubauer said.

Weather whiplash

"When farmers were attempting to harvest the crop in October, it rained 20 of the 31 days in the months," Neubauer noted.

However, since then, the moisture registered .32 inches from Nov. 1 to Jan. 21, which is a drought, he said.

This follows a heavy trail of weather extremes, with 2002 beginning and ending with dry weather ­ sandwiched between monsoon-like rains.

Consider the following:

· 2002 was the third hottest summer on record nationwide, second to 1936 and 1934, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

· January finished as the fourth warmest January in modern-day record (1891-2002).

· February was the fifth warmest.

· March was a cold and snowy month. The coldest air of the Twin Cities 2001-02 winter was March 3 with a low of -3 degrees. That was the highest minimum ever recorded in a winter season (1891-2002) and broke the old record of -8 F that was set during the winter of 1982-1983.

· April was the second snowiest.

· June was the fifth wettest on record with 8.30 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

· August was the third wettest.

Approximately 2.95 inches fell June 21 at the International Airport. This was the 21st highest precipitation total to fall on a calendar day. Torrential rains fell over the western Twin Cities with the heaviest rains centered over Wright County (obviously). Delano reported 5.50 inches June 24.

· The dew point temperature at the Twin Cities International Airport July 20 topped out at 80 degrees (from 8 p.m. and 10 p.m).

This is rare ­ only 20 hours of such recordings in dew points have been recorded since 1945.

The highest dew point temperature ever recorded in the Twin Cities was 81 degrees at 11:00 am on July 30, 1999.

· September was the fourth wettest September on record.

· October was the third coldest October on record, according to the weather service in St. Cloud.

· November 2002 was the driest November in 61 years.

The snowfall total marked only the fifth November in the past 50 years in which there was half an inch or less.

· October was the third coldest Twin Cities October in modern record.

· November was the seventh driest November on record.

The National Weather Service has its official winter forecast out (can be found at http://www.cpc .ncep.noaa.gov/).

The following is a sample of statistics about rainfall highs and lows.

Wettest Years

41.01" in 1897

39.32 in 1965

37.26 in 1951

36.69 in 1905

36.18 in 1983

35.71 in 1903

35.59 in 1977

35.42 in 1986

35.13 in 1899

34.94 in 2002 (10th wettest year since records were kept)

Driest Years

14.64 in 1910

14.93 in 1976

18.20 in 1933

18.30 in 1901

18.31 in 1992

18.54 in 1923

19.12 in 1925

19.46 in 1989

19.54 in 1987

"You put the crop in the ground and let the Lord take over," Groos said. His yield was above average in 2002, although he sustained 15 percent of his crop in drowned acreage.

"The crops were better than anticipated," Diers agreed.

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