Jet Stream Detour Leaves Midwest Farmers Drenched, Canadians Dried Out

By Brian K. Sullivan and Ashley Robinson | May 23, 2019

North American farmers are stuck between a flood and a dry spot, and there is little immediate help ahead.

Two high-pressure ridges have trapped the jet stream between them, forcing it into an unusually stagnant S-path in which it gathers warm, very moist air from the Pacific, carries it across the Rockies and dumps it in the Great Plains and U.S. Midwest. The resulting storms have drenched the region, putting U.S. seeding at the slowest pace on record for this time of year.

Meanwhile, the Canadian prairie north of the ridges is dry, nearing drought conditions, while the U.S. south of the ridges is hotter than normal, with 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) forecast for Georgia by Saturday. Get used to it, the weather may be around through the end of May, and perhaps longer.

“The storm track hasn’t been moving around,” said Joel Widenor, director of agricultural services at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. “Normally what we would expect to see typically is a little more progression, normally a little more variability in the jet stream.”

The Great Plains and Midwest have been battered by storms this year, leaving the Mississippi River at dangerously high levels, causing record floods in Nebraska and Iowa and delaying corn and soybean planting across the region.

Missouri only has 62% of its corn planted, versus 95% a year ago through May 19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture crop planting progress report. Soybeans are also lagging with only 9% of fields planted versus 58% a year ago. In Arkansas, only 31% of soybeans have been planted compared with 78% a year ago.

While the flow of moisture rises out of the U.S. and across southern Ontario where corn seeding should be almost finished, only 5% of fields are planted, said Trevor Hadwen, an agriculture-climate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan.

To the west, the problem isn’t too much rain, but too little. Drought on Canadian Prairies is biting so hard that seeding has stopped in many places, Hadwen said.

Worst-Hit Region

“In the prairies, Saskatchewan is the worst hit region in terms of drought,” Hadwen said. “It is getting too dry to even bother seeding at this point.”

Corey Loessin, a farmer near Radisson, Saskatchewan, said that while it’s nice to be done with his seeding, he’s hopeful he’ll see at least a little bit of rain soon.

“Even timely rains are going to have to be significant timely rains to produce grain,” Loessin said by telephone. He thinks his crops will germinate because of the soil moisture he seeded with them, but he isn’t sure how well they will grow past that.

The past few dry years have depleted soil moisture reserves and while there was a slight replenishment last fall, farmers crops will need more moisture to produce good yields. Pasture land is also too dry to support cattle, so farmers have to keep using feed, , Hadwen said.

“I know a lot of producers are paying double the normal price for feed and want to get their cattle out there to reduce the concern,” Hadwen said. It is possible herds may have to be reduced before summer.

Until there is a shock to the larger weather pattern, however, the storm train will keep stopping in the central U.S. and speeding by western Canada and the U.S. Southeast.

It “doesn’t look likely” that relief is near, Widenor said.

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