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Serving: Central

Casting the weather dice: Will 2004 be a winner?

Will the weather gods smile on Mid-South farmers again this year? Many specialists gave a large part of the credit for last year's record yields to the rather benign weather conditions — timely rains and moderate temperatures — that prevailed over most of the summer, keeping crops from being subjected to a lot of stress and allowing them to overcome a horrid start and achieve their potential.

For a year that began abysmally, with post-planting deluges and abnormal cold that left farmers shaking their heads and hoping to just eke out enough yield from raggedy crops to cover their bills, the mid- to late-season turnaround was dramatic and surprising, followed by perhaps as near-to-ideal fall harvest weather as one could wish for.

Record crops and high prices were a combination growers hadn't experienced in a long while, and there were a lot of happy smiles on a lot of faces.

Will 2004 be a repeat?

Thus far, we've had unusually cold, wet weather at Easter-time; snow/sleet in west Tennessee and northeast Mississippi April 13; and temperatures in the mid- to low 30s the following morning over much of the Mid-South. April 21-22, which had been preceded by a couple days of cotton planters rolling in a number of areas, saw heavy rains and cool temps return over much of the region, and nighttime temps this week were predicted in the 50s in many areas.

April is nothing if not unpredictable, and it's not that unusual for some quite cool temps and/or a lot of rain in May. But what's shaping up for summer fall is speculative, at best.

Although recent storms brought a bit of relief to Minnesota and other upper-Midwest areas that saw crop yields decimated last year by drought, much of the Midwest proper and a large portion of the Plains and Western states are still in drought status. A large chunk of the Southeast, at mid-April, was in moderate drought conditions — this on the heels of a five-year drought that resulted in Georgia paying farmers who would contract not to irrigate crops (2003 finally saw a breaking of the drought). Since the 1990s, two major western water-supplying lakes, Powell and Mead, have dropped by half, with no end in sight for the declines. Even in Canada, some areas are coping with the second worst drought in a century.

The latest U.S. Drought Assessment, prepared by the National Weather Service's Climate Predication Center for the period through July, is showing “increased risk” for drought in lower Alabama/Georgia and the Alabama/Florida panhandle, some easing of the drought in a band from Minnesota down through eastern Oklahoma, and a persistent drought over much of the Plains and Western states.

For the rest of the country, the outlook is for pretty much “normal” rainfall/temperatures through the period. Water levels in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas are reported at 10-year highs, increasing optimism for crops in that region. Beyond July, things are even more speculative weather-wise. August through October could be a scorcher, with scant rains. Or not. And even a “normal” situation can be knocked into a cocked hat for areas of the Southwest and Southeast if tropical storms come along.

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