KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US – Recent satellite imagery from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has suggested that ground water over Eastern Europe and the western part of Asia, including western Russia, is running very low. Early autumn rainfall eased some of the dryness in the topsoil, but more recent precipitation has become light once again. Dryness a short distance into the ground may remain through the winter and could become a “sleeping dog” for Russia in 2022.  

Low groundwater does not always breed a problem unless rainfall is going to be lighter than usual during the growing season. In that situation, crops that get planted in the spring may have short root systems. If the weather turns a little dry, the root systems may search the deeper soil for moisture only to find that groundwater is not readily available. If that situation evolves, crops will become more easily stressed when the weather turns dry after planting and emergence in the spring when aggressive crop development normally evolves.

Who is to say whether the spring and summer of 2022 will be dry or not? No one really knows, but if past weather can provide a little insight into future events, farmers and traders should start watching the situation a little more closely. The reason has to do with two-year La Niña events that occur simultaneously with the 22-year solar cycle. Parts of Russia’s crop country tends to have a dryness problem each time there is a La Niña event that occurs over more than a single year. This year’s latest La Niña evolution will make it two years that there was at least some influence from La Niña.

La Niña events tend to reduce moisture from the atmosphere in the middle latitudes in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Typically, La Niña events last from 8 to 12 months and then dissipate. That is often long enough to have some influence on the atmosphere, changing weather patterns in various areas around the world. However, when La Niña events last for two years or more, the moisture deficits in the middle latitudes tend to become a little more significant. This phenomenon was more notable in past decades before the world warmed up so much, but for a large land-locked agricultural region like Russia, the drier bias still seems to work.

A quick review of the last multi-year La Niña event that occurred from 2008-10 is a perfect example. That event concluded with a serious bout of heat and dryness in western Russia that induced widespread hardship on the grain and oilseed production areas west of the Ural Mountains in 2010. It just so happened that the two-year La Niña event also occurred shortly after the solar minimum in 2008.  

World Weather, Inc. believes multi-year La Niña events that follow the solar minimum usually result in some dryness in at least a part of central and western Asia. A similar condition tends to occur in central North America, and that is one of the reasons why World Weather, Inc. believes a third year of drought will impact the western United States and drought may expand into the Great Plains and possibly a part of the western US Corn Belt in 2022.

La Niña-induced dryness in Russia does not always occur with enough intensity to seriously thwart crop production. Last year’s La Niña event was thought to have played at least a small role in the lighter-than-usual rainfall this year in the eastern New Lands, hurting some of its spring wheat and sunseed production. The most significant dryness associated with La Niña events tends to occur as the multi-year event comes to an end, and that may be the summer of 2022. Every La Niña event is different, and with the world’s oceans and atmosphere warming, there is more moisture in the air to be precipitated out during cool frontal passages. These changes could change the impact of La Niña on Russia and North America, but a caution flag is still flying because of low ground water that is already present in Russia and offers at least some support for less-than-usual rainfall in a part of the nation during the summer of 2022. 

An upper-air wind flow pattern already is expected to be somewhat unfavorable for abundant rainfall during the late spring and summer in the New Lands next year, although this area is farther east of where the greatest groundwater shortage exists today. The bottom line is that the situation warrants a close watch.

Winter weather in western Russia is expected to be colder biased at times, and precipitation could be greater than usual in the Black and Caspian Sea areas, which might help replenish some of the low groundwater. However, if the ground freezes up before the precipitation pattern increases, frost in the soil will prevent the snow from melting into the ground as well as it might otherwise, leaving the moisture deficits deep in the ground.

North America weather also will be a bit tenuous for 2022 with drought expected to remain from the southwestern states into the central and southern Plains by spring. Dryness also will prevail in central parts of Canada’s Prairies. The environment could bring back dryness to the northern Plains and allow it to develop in a part of the western Corn Belt next spring. However, for now, all of this is just speculation based on patterns of the past. Nevertheless, a watchful eye is warranted to look for the sleeping dog to possibly awaken in the spring and/or summer of 2022.

In the meantime, La Niña continues to evolve and is taking more control of the world’s weather. South America’s weather in November should be strongly controlled by La Niña. That should lead to below-average rainfall in eastern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Paraguay and southern Brazil. Good crop weather is expected in center west and center south Brazil, and much of western Argentina should see timely precipitation, even though it may be lighter than usual at times.

One last area of interest in the Southern Hemisphere this year is Australia. There is still some potential for the nation to experience a wet November and December. A wet finish to the year could be a threat to its wheat, barley and canola crops as they finish development, mature and are harvested. Too much rain too often could translate into a decline in crop quality.