Polar Vortex Fuels Wheat Winterkill Fears

  • Polar Vortex Fuels Wheat Winterkill Fears

In parts of the Plains, the winter wheat crop is off to a fairly good start. But in some spots, the crop has veered off that course with the arrival of the latest blast of polar vortex-induced freezing temperatures.

Temperatures will dip as low as the single-digits in parts of the Wheat Belt — mainly in North Dakota — over the next few days. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for example, forecasts a low temperature Tuesday night as low as 7 degrees, with highs only reaching the lower 20s by week’s end.

“Arctic high pressure stretching from the Northern Rockies into the Plains will continue to bring cold temperatures today and through the week,” NOAA-NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist in Grrand Forks, Greg Gust, said earlier this week. “Significant accumulating snow will begin over north-central North Dakota this afternoon and spread south and east through tonight and Wednesday. Accumulations of 1 to 3 inches will be possible. For later in the week, there will be more sunshine but even colder weather settles into the region.”

Though that region’ is the outlier temp-wise, the wintry blast has delivered freezing temperatures well south of where they’re common this time of year, and that’s fueling some fears that the winter wheat crop has incurred some winterkill damage well before the calendar says the season has actually arrived.

“A very cold pattern is currently poised to push into the Plains, Midwest, and Delta mid- and late week, and current projections take low temperatures to near 0 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday morning, and below 0 Fahrenheit Thursday morning across western Nebraska and northeastern Colorado,” says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. “Snow cover is sparse in those regions, and some spotty winterkill will be likely to winter wheat there.”

As much as 16 inches of snow fell in northern parts of the Plains and Corn Belt as the first wave of the polar vortex pushed through the region on Sunday and Monday; that’s actually good news on the wheat winterkill front, though, as the winter precipitation can help insulate the crop from winterkill damage. The area of greatest concern will continue to be the west-central Plains, adds Tuesday’s Ag QUICKsheet report from Commodity Weather Group (CWG). Other areas could see some cuts in yield potential, too.

“Cold will push central Plains and Midwest wheat into dormancy, but winterkill damage threats are limited to the Nebraska Panhandle and northeast Colorado Thursday morning,” according to CWG. “Delta dryness will allow much of late soy/cotton harvest to be completed, but late harvest will be slowed early next week. Late-seeded soft red wheat in the southern Midwest/northern Delta will see cold hamper germination and early growth and could lead to minor reductions in acreage.”


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