New flood dangers emerge in south-central US as areas to the north face 'slow grind' of a recovery
By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
April 22, 2019, 2:38:33 AM EDT
There is good news and bad news for flooding concerns and spring planting over the central United States in the coming weeks, according to meteorologists.
Record flooding that has overwhelmed the midwestern U.S. this spring has already taken a significant toll on farmers, and the U.S. disaster aid isn't covering crops lost by the floods.
"Recovery from flooding and wet soil conditions for planting concerns in parts of the central United States is likely to be a slow grind," according to AccuWeather Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler.
Short-term flooding in North Central states
Flooding, already set into motion from prior storms this winter and spring, will continue over the Mississippi, James and Red rivers over the North-Central states over the next couple of weeks.
Rain from the latest storm as well as runoff associated with recent snowmelt from prior storms over the northern tier will raise water levels in some cases and slow the rate of recession in others.
Around the end of April, at Mitchell, South Dakota, the James River is forecast by National Weather Service hydrologists to crest just shy of the record level during April 2001.
Farther to the south and west, the Missouri River is not expected to climb above minor flood stage into the end of April.
Not as wet in North Central states as planting season ramps up
Changes in the weather pattern during the latter part of April and into May should allow fewer big storms to impact a large part of the northern half of the Central states.
"There will still be some storms moving eastward across the northern Plains to the Upper Midwest from the Pacific Ocean, but they are less likely to be big, slow-moving and wet," Mohler said.
The fast west-to-east storm track will still carry some moisture across the region. However, the storms may not have as much time to grab Gulf of Mexico moisture.
While this may not help the river situation much over the next couple of weeks, it is good news from a long-term flooding standpoint. The less-rainy pattern will allow rivers to slowly recede in the weeks ahead. It will also lower the risk of small stream flooding almost immediately.
However, spring planting season is looming and there is still the problem of wet soil.
"Many fields in areas from central and eastern Nebraska through much of Iowa, southeastern South Dakota and much of Minnesota and Wisconsin are saturated following storms this past winter and early spring and that's a potential problem," Mohler said.
"While planting is not yet late, because it is too early to plant, it probably will be late moving forward over the next several weeks," Mohler said.
Farmers in these same areas will generally need little to no rain to get into the fields and get on schedule during May.
Even a small amount of rain every two to three days on average may be too much to be able to plant main-season, high-yield crops. Farmers may have to switch to shorter-season varieties, which tend to have lower yields.
In areas where there has been heavy, drifting snow from the storms this winter, which is not uncommon for the area, some snow may remain in the fields into May.
"As an exception over part of the northern Plains, areas from much of central and western North Dakota to eastern Montana and part of western South Dakota may be in okay shape as far as planting on time," Mohler said.
"These areas were largely missed by the last big snowstorm and are dodging rain from the storm this week and generally don't plant for several weeks yet, so the soil will have a better chance at drying out."
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"In portions of Ohio, Indiana and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, less rainy conditions over the past month or so have allowed the soil to dry enough to plow in some areas," Mohler added.
There is still some concern for big and wet storms lingering in the coming weeks, however.
"As long as west-to-east movement of storms over the North Atlantic don't get jammed up, we should have less-wet conditions over the North-Central states," according to AccuWeather Long-Range Meteorologist Max Vido.
"An atmospheric traffic jam over the North Atlantic could spread farther west to North America and result in more big, slow-moving storms with heavy rainfall in the North Central states," Vido said.
More trouble ahead for South Central states
Repeating heavy rain will be a concern for part of the South Central states into May with a new danger unfolding during the upcoming week.
"While dry weather has returned this weekend, there is concern for a new storm to renew the risk for flooding downpours and severe thunderstorms across Oklahoma and Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.
The threat for rounds of heavy rain into May is bad news for the lower Mississippi Valley as some areas have had more than double their amount of normal rainfall in recent weeks and months.
"We have indications that multiple storms will roll up over the Southwest states and may get bottled up," Vido said.
This would tend to bring rounds of rain and may renew or aggravate ongoing flooding in part of the lower Mississippi Valley and perhaps cause flooding issues to spread farther west over the lower southern Plains into May.
How much separation between the big rain events may determine the magnitude of flooding over the lower Mississippi and especially the secondary rivers in the region.
Frequent storms with big rain may lead to major flooding.
Big storms with dry weather in between may limit flooding to small streams and urban areas, while only moderate flooding may occur on the rivers.
"The degree of separation between storms will also determine how much the soil is able to dry out and the ability for farmers to get into the fields to plant," Mohler said.
Part of the South Central states may benefit from a wetter pattern, however.
"The same pattern may actually bring beneficial rain to abnormally dry and building drought areas in central and western Texas and the southern High Plains in general this spring," Vido said.
So while there is some good news for the North Central states as the spring progresses, there are still some potential problems with perhaps the worst conditions moving forward in terms of flooding centered over the lower Mississippi Valley.
AccuWeather will be releasing its U.S. summer outlook in early May. The outlook will discuss where areas of drought and excessive rain may develop, as well as temperature departures in the coming months.
Download the free AccuWeather app for the latest forecast and to keep up with any flood advisories. Keep checking back for updates on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.
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