Mid-South farmers may need to get used to the weather patterns they've endured for the past few years, including more annual rainfall and more intense rainfall events.
"We can't predict that every year will be like the last two," says meteorologist Jim Belles, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Memphis, Tenn. Belles adds that weather data from 100 years indicate Mid-South annual rainfall average has increased, as has the frequency of heavy rain events, 3 inches or more.
Change in climate is a factor, he says. "We have dry periods, too, including what we call 'flash droughts,' often in late summer and into fall. It gets hot in the Mid-South and when we get spotty rainfall for 21 days or more, we expect to see stress on crops."
Too wet to plant
The issue farmers face now, he says, is a wet planting season for the third year in a row. "It's too wet. That's been the issue for the last two years and is keeping farmers out of the fields this spring," Belles says.
"Temperature has been favorable. It's been mild; things are greening up earlier, so they got a head start with temperature, but with continuing rainfall, it is difficult to get into the field and plant, especially in bottom land and other areas prone to flooding."
The forecast, he adds, is not favorable, with above average rainfall predicted, possibly extending into May.
"The outlook is for more rain."
And more flooding, according to a recent National Weather Service Mississippi River Outlook.
Here's the gist of the April 2 flooding report:
- Broad crest working its way through the Mississippi River from Cairo through Helena for the next week followed by falling river levels.
- Another crest is showing up later in April in response to rainfall later next week.
- Outlooks still show an increased probability for above average rainfall through the first half of April.
The April 1 NWS weather map indicates at least a 50% probability of rain across much of the Mid-South for the next 30 days.
Predisposed for high water
"We need to get through the next four weeks and hope we don't see a system stall over the Ohio Valley and drop 7, 12, or 15 inches of rain in two days," Belles says. "That can happen. It has been hard to get Cairo, Ill., to dry out.
"We are predisposed to high water vulnerability into the Mid-South," he adds. "A big concern is that we could get into a situation similar to 2011. We can't forecast that, but it is a concern."
Belles says high water vulnerability extends from the lower Ohio Valley into Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama and includes feeder rivers into the Mississippi.
"We have been dealing with above average rainfall for the last two years," he says. Persistent high water in the Mississippi River Valley prevented basins from drying out. "We have not been able to empty those basins and allow soil to dry."
Rainfall this year across the region — central Mississippi, northeast Mississippi, to Tennessee and into Alabama —has ranged from 35 to 40 inches, Belles says. "That's a lot of water, too much to dry those basins."