Illinois farmers may expect a winter that will be warmer and wetter than normal, meteorologists say.
Driving the forecasts is the Pacific climate phenomenon La Niña.
“The outlook through February is really leaning into La Niña conditions,” said Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford. “Generally speaking, we have the best odds for above-normal temperatures. But that time period is when we have our most variable conditions anyway, so we can still see cold snaps and other weather events.”
Short term, Illinois may experience more standard winter weather, said Dan Hicks of Freese-Notis Weather.
“We’ll have an above-normal temperature trend through Christmas,” Hicks said. “As we get into late December and January, there may be a trend for some colder weather overall, especially the northern part. There could be a shift to below-normal temperatures. In southern Illinois it looks to shift back to normal late-December-January temperatures. During that period there is greater potential for more precipitation to fall as snow.”
Ford sees a possibility of a repeat of the winter of 2020-21.
“Because of the milder start to winter, we could be setting up a situation like we had last year when it was very mild in December and January and winter really came on in February,” he said. “That’s somewhat characteristic of La Niña winters — a late onset.”
The milder start to winter could be a positive for farmers in the northern part of the state who have had periods of drought, according to Ford.
“One thing we’re looking at is northern Illinois, especially the legacy of drought they had this year,” he said. “Even though it was wetter in October, and November was really dry, a prolonged period of warmth to start winter holds off frost. Any rain we get is going to infiltrate the soil, not a lot of frost that prevents anything from getting into the soil.
“If we do see that period — and forecast verifies it — we should get some decent drought recovery. That is one thing I see as beneficial to that warm start to winter.”
Hicks said weather patterns will likely bring in some below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation to the region.
“It appears we’re going to have a weak La Niña through the winter and a gradual weakening through the spring,” he said. “Generally in the winter time, La Niña tends to favor lower temperatures through the Great Lakes, northern Midwest and Northern Plains. We usually have more normal temperatures as you move farther south.
“La Niña precipitation in Illinois tends to be wetter than normal during that time period. That’s just looking back at years past that were similar to the La Niña we have now.”
In general, Illinois farmers should have adequate soil moisture, though it will likely vary between regions of the state.
“Everywhere between I-80 and I-70 is looking fine,” Ford said. “There are some dry pockets around the St. Louis Metro East area, especially north, in Calhoun, Jersey and Macoupin down to St. Clair and Madison counties. Rainfall has been less than normal since Nov. 1. But we had a pretty wet summer and October was wet. Though it’s still dry, moisture is adequate there.
“Farther in southern Illinois, in the south seven counties, we got decent rain. They’re up to their typical wet start to winter. Barring extremely warm and dry winter, the only area I’d worry about as far as getting moisture is northern Illinois.”
The winter is shaping up to be a good one for farmers growing winter wheat and cover crops.
“We had a fairly early harvest, and I hear about folks putting out cover crops and worrying about them,” Ford said. “It was cool and dry, but December has been warmer than normal, though not 80 degrees. If we get intense winter in January and February, that will give us good winter wheat conditions.”
Hicks doesn’t foresee weather- related problems for livestock producers.
“It probably won’t have an impact,” he said. “I suppose for some livestock producers, if we get some colder-than-normal weather in the northern part of that region, feeding demand would be a little bit higher than normal. I wouldn’t think there would be major impacts on winter wheat.”