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March 4, 2013

Warmer, wetter spring in store for region

Dry summer forecast not nearly as severe as last year’s drought

Purdue climatologists now say they’re expecting a warm, wet spring this year.

Dev Niyogi, state climatologist based at Purdue University, said a warmer and wetter start to farmers’ planting season is likely to give way to some drying during the growing season.

Cass County has received roughly the normal amount of rainfall over the last month, according to the National Weather Service. Storms headed through the area were moving too fast to drop heavy precipitation, said Purdue assistant climatologist Ken Scheeringa, but the storm track slowed down “tremendously” last week.

“During most of February,” Scheeringa said, “the storms were just racing here like a horse race, one storm right after another.... Those did not bring us a lot of rain or snow, they just came often.”

However, a storm last week took days to cross the state, he said, a trend that’s likely to continue. “The storm is coming in and staying a while before it’s leaving.”

“It’s possible that it could get too wet,” Scheeringa said. “It just depends on if we continue with the same storm track.”

Soil moisture has been improving in the area after last year’s severe drought, according to a release from Purdue, enough to eliminate the drought conditions. The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts about 2.5 inches of extra Indiana rainfall through May, when last year’s for the same period fell short by more than 4 inches.

And while “mild to moderate” drought might develop late in spring and over the summer, it’s unlikely to be anything like last year’s parched weather, Scheeringa said.

While the Great Plains farther west are headed into a second severe drought year, states in the eastern half of the Midwest have better times ahead.

“When we say drought again, that’s what people are thinking about, ‘oh no, it’ll be another 2012,’” he said. But the kind of drought conditions climatologists expect are more akin to a fairly usual drought affecting parts of the state for two or three weeks over the course of the year.

A minor drought of that sort “doesn’t necessarily impact the bottom line as far as the crop yields go,” Scheeringa said.

In fact, “that’s very common,” he said, happening about every two or three years. “The drought that happened last summer may happen two or three times in a century.”

One area farmer said even if the spring gets “too wet” for corn and beans, in any case the season’s likely to be better for farmers than last year.

“Overall, as long as we get some more moisture here come this winter to replenish the moisture in the subsoil and the topsoil, I don’t think to start off the season it’ll be that bad,” said Brad Plank, who farms corn, beans and tomatoes in Cass County with his father.

“If it’s warmer and wetter spring, then depending if it’s raining when the guys are planting, it could affect how soon a guy gets out there,” he continued. “If a guy’s able to get out there and plant, it’ll help greatly.”

The only negative effect, he said, could be on corn roots, which may grow shorter if plenty of water is available in shallower soil.

“That could have an effect on us later in the summer when it does turn dry because the roots won’t be as deep, they’ll be shallow,” Plank said.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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