By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The first day of spring felt much like the first day of winter for many across a large portion of the country. One storm system after another has made its way through the Midwest and East, with another coming through just this weekend.
While the moisture has been welcomed by those still suffering drought conditions, many farmers in this area would normally be fertilizing fields instead of waiting for those pastures to dry out. Tom Priddy, University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture agricultural meteorologist, said the eastern half of the country is stuck in a negative Arctic weather pattern.
“That’s a big part of the reason for the lingering cold and wet weather we have been experiencing,” he said. “And the big talk is that the cold weather is back through the end of the month.”
The 90-day forecast predicts a return to warmer – possibly even above normal – temperatures, but it also calls for above-normal precipitation through June; quite a contrast from last year. Farmers got a head start in 2012 with a warm, dry spring that turned into one of the worst droughts since the 1930s.
This year, the precipitation has been abundant. According to information from the UK weather website, December and January saw above-normal precipitation levels of over 2.5 inches more than normal. Since the start of March, the state has averaged nearly 4 inches of rainfall, which is about an inch above normal.
With Kentucky being stuck in this Arctic air mass, Priddy said it means a blocking pattern has kept an enhanced trough of low pressure over the eastern United States, which results in cooler temperatures.
Average temperatures for this area should be in the upper 50s to low 60s. For this month, overall average temperatures have been 4 degrees colder, and upward of 9 degrees colder than normal from March 18-20; some days have had even greater temperature differences.
“Kentucky is very susceptible to Canadian or even Arctic outbreaks,” UK agricultural meteorologist Matthew Dixon said. “Fortunately, the pattern is going to break, but not before April.” Priddy added a late-season snow is still possible.
He pointed out producers are usually itching to get an early start, taking a little risk in doing so because if they don’t, they feel like they stay behind through the growing season – and that may be the case this year.
“A lot of field operations are going to be interrupted,” he said. “Some horticultural crops have already been delayed.”
Tommy Yankey, the UK Anderson County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said even with the moisture, now is more normal than last year’s extremely warm spring.
“Most farmers are tired of the mud, but it still beats a drought,” he said. “They are not behind yet and this is pretty normal, really.”
Yankey also said fertilizing fields can come any time from the first of March until April 15, depending on the crop, so farmers are still in good shape.
Last year some Kentucky corn producers were planting even before the middle of April, but he said typically in this region, growers will start putting their crop in the ground anywhere from April 20 up until May 15.
Data show if producers wait longer than that, they could expect to lose a bushel yield for each day of delayed planting.
Of course Mother Nature will figure prominently. Last year late planters seemed to fair better because of the record heat and dry conditions in June. If the precipitation forecast holds, there may be more late planters this year than normal.
For more information on a specific forecast, log onto the UK Agricultural Weather Center at http://weather .uky.edu/ukawc.shtml
To view outlooks and forecasts, visit http://weather .uky.edu/outlooks.html