Average flooding risk, mixed signals for planting this spring




The world as a whole might not be normal right now, but at least the flood risk near Winona is normal. 

After elevated flood risk the past two annual snowmelts, the National Weather Service projected a “near normal” flood risk along the Mississippi for the spring due to generally dry conditions last year and limited snowpack. Clint Aegerter of the La Crosse National Weather Service station said annual snowmelt for 2021 has been under ideal conditions, Aegerter said: gradual and with freezing temperatures at night to help keep it in check. 

Near Winona specifically, NWS La Crosse said ice-out was on the way. 

“Warming temperatures will cause snowmelt and breaking up of ice on waterways into this weekend,” the NWS website said. “Plan on elevated flow on many streams and rivers. No flooding is forecast at this time, but those with interests near or along waterways should closely monitor water levels and keep up-to-date with the latest river forecasts.”

Last year, observers tagged ice-out on Lake Pepin on March 20 and Lake Zumbro on March 29. 

In addition to those wanting to squeeze the last out of the ice fishing season, farmers will also be watching the weather these coming weeks. Low precipitation might actually be helpful in the short term, according to University of Minnesota Extension Educator Lizabeth Stahl. If the fields are dry rather than flooded, it means seeds can get in on time, she said. 

“Normally, even under drier conditions, there is usually enough soil moisture to get adequate establishment of corn and soybeans,” she said. “What happens as the season progresses, however, will have a big impact on potential yield impacts. Will it stay dry? Will we also have high temperatures to deal with too (the combination would be harder on crops).”

It will in fact be unusually warm, Aegerter said. “The overall signal for the next month is above normal,” he said.

In terms of the three-month outlook through May, Aegerter said the signs were weaker but still trending toward above normal temperatures. 

The NWS projected a much hotter than average March for most of the Great Lakes region, including the southeastern tip of Minnesota. NWS’ Temperature Outlook released Feb. 28 indicated that Winona’s region of the state will be unseasonably warm for the month. Together with the Gulf Coast region, the Winona area and the rest of the Great Lakes will be in the biggest temperature anomaly throughout the country. 

In addition to a better than 50/50 chance for unusually hot temperatures, there is also a 33 to 40 percent chance of a wetter March than normal. Aegerter said the latest available data has a slight indication of above-normal precipitation through May. 

Stahl also gave direct advice to farmers: give yourself the best chance for success using a good planting date, seed rate, and the deployment of a pre-emergence herbicide to prevent early weeds like waterhemp. She also advised that if conditions remain dry, farmers should terminate their winter cover crop sooner rather than later, as letting it sit for too long could deprive the cash crop of moisture, especially if one chooses to “plant green” directly into the old winter crop. 



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