A warm December led to a cold January in the winter of 2021-22. While the weather may have shaken out a bit differently a year ago, the resulting averages have been somewhat similar, meteorologists say.
“What really stands out comparing the previous winter season to the current season is how warm we were at the start of the year,” said Melissa Widhalm, regional climatologist at the Midwest Regional Climate Center. “In October, November and December of 2021 we were really far above normal across the whole Midwest. In the 2020-21 season we were slightly above average.”
Dan Hicks of Freese-Notis Weather has seen the same thing.
“December was a very warm month compared to normal,” he said. “A lot of the Midwest was 5 to 10 degrees above normal. We’ve seen a big turnaround in January. It’s several degrees below normal in most of the Midwest.”
Though January 2022 was much colder than the previous January, temperatures averaged out over a three-month span were roughly equal this year to 2021, Widhalm said.
One difference is the snow cover in the Midwest. Many regions that usually experience snow events have been spared.
“In terms of moisture, the big story is the snow drought we’re seeing across the central Midwest,” Widhalm said.
“Looking at the 2020-21 season, Iowa was pretty close to normal. Missouri and Illinois were tracking below normal up to this point. We’re seeing a similar trend this year, but across the whole region. Illinois and Indiana are at the epicenter of that snow drought. But in terms of precipitation, they’re not really behind. They’re just getting precipitation in rain instead of snow.”
Hicks noted that an unusually mild December was followed by a colder-than-normal January. Precipitation intensity has basically followed a line running at an angle across the Corn Belt.
“The wettest conditions since the first of December definitely has been in the Ohio Valley,” he said. “It’s wettest as you move to the north and west away from the Ohio Valley. It’s been pretty consistently wet in the southern Midwest and the Ohio Valley.
“There are places in a third of the Midwest where soil moisture is below normal. If you drew a line from south of Kansas City and up to southeastern Michigan, southeast of that line there is abundant soil moisture. North and west of that line, there are pockets where soil moisture is still below normal.”
Widhalm said dry pockets run through the southern parts of Missouri and Illinois into Indiana.
“If you’re in Indiana like I am, it’s really wet, and we’re dealing with a lot of standing water,” she said. “There’s definitely going to be an impact if snow cover is insulating the ground. It makes a difference how cold the soils are. The blanket keeps it a bit warmer. It’s good to get those cold temperatures to kill off disease and insects.”
Adverse fall weather in some places hampered field work.
“It affects your ability to fertilize,” Widhalm said. “In the fall, soils were staying so warm farmers weren’t getting optimal time to get out there and apply without risk of it running off. They might be itching to get out there in the spring.
“Also, we’ve been hearing about some ag impacts in the region even as far out as Kansas related to wheat and cover crops. The warm fall got things off to a good start, then wetness came in.”
Hicks sees a continuation of the below-average temperature trend through February.
“It’s going to average a few degrees colder than normal,” he said. “Precipitation is going to probably be normal to above normal, especially in the central and western Midwest and less in the western part of the Midwest.”