OMAHA (DTN) -- In these last few weeks of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, North America's major wheat regions have a sharp contrast in fortunes.
The northern regions have either adequate or improving moisture; east and southeast areas are adequate to surplus; and the north-central, central and southwest areas are very dry.
Meanwhile, parts of the Southern Plains are in their third-consecutive year of having some phase of drought.
"I've never seen a period this consistently dry in my career," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino about the Southern Plains' situation. "We had a brief round of moisture back in December, but we're now into a long period of very dry weather setting up to end the (winter) season."
NOAA's seasonal Drought Outlook, issued Jan. 17, calls for "persistence" of drought conditions from South Dakota south through Texas -- taking in the entire Plains region, except for Montana and North Dakota. This adds to the potential loss of crop yields, especially hard red winter wheat.
Grain markets are not totally focused on the U.S. Plains' dryness issues, largely because of wheat production in such competing regions as Australia, Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of Europe. However, weather problems reduced output in those countries last year; that will lead some market attention to the Southern Plains drought.
"Record-low crop-condition ratings were seen as the (wheat) crop moved into dormancy, with little improvement expected so far this winter," said DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom. "World fundamentals have tightened in the last couple years due to an abnormally high number of weather problems in key wheat-growing areas of the world."
South Dakota state climatologist Dennis Todey agreed with Palmerino's assessment of a dry outlook for the majority of the Great Plains in the next month to six weeks.
One feature of recent trends, in Todey's view, is that the atmosphere has shown a pattern that resembles a La Nina winter. In a La Nina winter, cold waves are common in the contiguous United States, with precipitation focusing on the far northern areas through the eastern Midwest. Such a tendency was in effect during the first half of January. "We are not in a La Nina, but things are acting like that. There are hints of one (La Nina) lurking in the pattern," Todey said.
There have been some benefits to this. In the eastern Midwest, precipitation which started with rain from Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy last fall has continued several times this winter. Farther north, the Canadian Prairies, which had mostly above-normal rainfall a year ago, continue with at least some chances for moisture in late winter.
"If it stays cold through central Canada, it will increase the chances of above-normal precipitation for the Prairies later in the winter," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Doug Webster. "My gut feeling is that, after another couple weeks of cold weather and occasional periods of light snow, that it turns milder and drier from mid-February into March."
USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey is also much more confident about the northern U.S. crop belt than south during this latter stage of winter.
"There's enough snow in northern areas that Montana is holding on fairly well, but I don't expect to see any dramatic improvement between now and breaking dormancy from South Dakota to Texas," Rippey said. "Spring weather will be important as always. There are some pretty thin stands (of wheat)."
Bryce Anderson can be reached at email@example.com
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