The weather throughout fall and during the transition to winter can only be described as interesting. It’s been awhile since I was doing play-by-play for a high school football game during early November and actually had to take my winter jacket off because the press box was actually quite comfortable. I would imagine outside chores have been much less taxing during the nice fall weather too.
Conditions are going to change at some point. We know that here in southeast Minnesota. Colder weather and snow will be coming starting next week, but the question is how cold and how much?
Mark Seeley is a climatologist with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. (photo from mprnews.org)
Mark Seeley of the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. He’s a professor, a climatologist, and the main guy Minnesota media has turned to with weather questions for decades. I first met Mark while at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls. He was at the annual Farmfest event down the road near Morgan, Minnesota, and a fellow broadcaster said I needed to talk to Mark if I wanted to do a weather segment.
My most recent weather assignment comes from my freelance reporting job with Bluff Country News Group. We wanted to know what the upcoming winter would look like so I gave Mark a call and had a visit. The 2016 calendar year weather conditions in southeast Minnesota have been record-setting, with too much heat and moisture. I wanted to know how much heat and moisture have hit the area and this is what Mark had to say:
I spent some time in Kansas City at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting’s 72nd annual convention. During the second day of the event, a trade show brings people in from far and wide to talk about all things agriculture, a topic more complex than most outside the business would believe. By the way, the show is called Trade Talk.
Of course, weather is one of the premium topics in any agriculture discussion, and one gentleman who’s been talking weather and ag for a long time is Bryce Anderson. I’ve talked many times with Bryce during my years in radio, and finally had the chance to reconnect. One of the hot topics right now is above normal temperatures in the fall with not much precipitation. The question is: How long does it last, and what does this foretell for the winter?
Bryce Anderson, the Chief Meteorologist for DTN. (Photo from hoffmanag.com)
Bryce Anderson has been DTN’s ag meteorologist and fill-in market analyst since 1991. He combines his expertise in weather forecasting with a south-central Nebraska farm background to bring in-depth, focused commentary on the top weather developments affecting agriculture each day.
His comments in the DTN Ag Weather Brief and the DTN Market Impact Weather articles are read by persons involved in all aspects of the agricultural industry and in all major crop and livestock production areas of the U.S. and Canada.
Bryce also delivers forecast commentary on regional and national farm broadcast programs and hosts DTN audio and video productions.
Prior to joining DTN, Bryce was in radio and television farm broadcasting and agricultural meteorology at stations in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. He holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska, and a certificate of broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The dark days of winter can be a great time to learn new things, so the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is again providing farmers a day of Winter Workshops in January. The MDA will offer six workshops covering a diverse array of farming topics on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Workshop details and online registration are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/amdor by calling 651-201-6012 and requesting a “Winter Workshops” brochure. The workshops include:
All Day (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
The Nuts and Bolts of Running a CSA, presented by Mark Boen and Bernard Crosser of Bluebird Gardens, Cost: $50
Transitioning to Organic: From Deciding to Doing, presented by Carmen Fernolz of A-Frame Farms. Cost: $50
Morning Workshops (9 a.m. to Noon)
Grazing Basics, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Cost: $25
Reality Checking your Farm Plan, presented by John and Lisa Mesko from the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA). Cost: $25 (free for SFA members)
Afternoon Workshops (start at 1:30 p.m)
Fine Tune Your Grazing System, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Ends at 4:30 p.m. Cost: $25
Save Your Own Seed, presented by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen from Seed Sages and Tiny Diner Farm. Ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost: $25
While they immediately precede the two-day Minnesota Organic Conference to be held January 9-10, also in St. Cloud, these workshops are designed to benefit all kinds of farmers. Minnesota Organic Conference details are posted at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic.
Did you know that propane is a key fuel in the United States, as it heats over six million homes in the winter? According to philly.com, it’s vital to American farms as well, because it runs grain dryers after a wet fall harvest season, and it keeps livestock barns all over the country warm too.
According to reuters.com, propane is becoming a key component on the nation’s farms at the other end of the growing season. After finishing spring planting, more and more farmers are using propane to power their irrigation equipment, and they’re having success doing it. Farmers are reporting a significant decline in the amount of fuel they need, which in turn saves them a lot on their overall cost of fuel.
However, philly.com reports that after a brutal winter in the Midwest and Northeast USA, there are questions about the supply of propane. Despite the fact that the nation produces more propane than it can consume domestically, there was a big shortage of propane during the winter heating season. The shortage was so bad, 30 states declared emergencies, and loosened certain trucking restrictions on propane deliveries from other areas. Governments boosted heating aid to low-income residents, and propane dealers were forced to ration the fuel.
Several factors contributed to the shortage. Field to Field talked with a couple gentlemen who are deeply involved in the propane industry. Mark Leitman is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Propane Education and Research Council, and Phil Smith is the lead energy salesman for the Aurora Cooperative in Nebraska. They both called last winter a “perfect storm” for the propane industry, and feel the supply will be enough for next winter, and in the years ahead.
A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)
“Persistent.” Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.
U of Mn Extension climatologist Mark Seely (photo from minnesotaalumni.org)
According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms: tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted. Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”
Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early. The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.” Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.
“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.” Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:
Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent. “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”
How this winter stacks up against past winters (graph courtesy of the Twin Cities NWS) (photo from blogs.mprnews.org)
What is driving the cold?
According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest. The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island. A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.
DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south. They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.” The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.
DTN meteorologist Mike Palmerino (Photo from www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com)
Uneven snow cover
“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely. “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover. In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”
Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.” That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.
One of the few areas where wild grass pokes through snow cover in SE Mn (photo by Chad Smith)
What is ahead?
“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely. “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”
Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise. If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.” He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”
Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March. However, not all the predictions are positive:
Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring. You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:
SE Mn has a lot of snow to get rid of before spring planting (photo by Chad Smith)
Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter: