KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — One of the worst multi-year droughts to impact Canada’s Prairies seems to be easing a bit. Late April and early May precipitation brought some of the best distributed precipitation seen in years.

Drought has not ended, but planting moisture in the topsoil is now rated well enough that wheat, barley, oats, canola, corn, soybeans, lentils and other crops can be planted aggressively in the next few weeks with less fear of another year of drought.

Drought relief also has occurred in portions of the central United States in recent weeks, but Mexico is still in the midst of a notable drought and there is still much chatter in the world of meteorology about the potential for hotter and drier weather in the central United States this summer. That begs the question, “Is drought in North America ending or not?”   

World Weather, Inc. reminds its readers that the drought in North America that began in 2020 was anticipated because of the 22-year solar cycle and the onset of a multi-year La Niña event. This solar cycle always has been notorious for the most extreme of drought conditions in at least a part of North America and the past several years certainly attests to that.

Continental droughts, like that of North America in recent years, are always difficult to break down, but their demise is often associated with the arrival of the solar maximum that occurs late this year and in 2025. Droughts like this also need to be whittled down. They are difficult to break in a single swoop of stormy weather and multiple rounds of significant rain must occur to knock them out. Weather conditions in the past two weeks have suggested that this drought may be on its way out, but more rain is needed.

Drought in Mexico remains very serious and, with the demise of El Niño, the odds become much more favorable for a return of a more normal-like monsoon season in 2024. The development of monsoonal rains in Mexico are sure to be a little delayed because of the lingering atmospheric footprint from El Niño, but change will happen this year.

In the meantime, Canada’s southwestern Prairies have a very good potential for aggressive spring fieldwork in the balance of May because of rain noted in the most recent two weeks. Dryness in the subsoil remains and river and stream flows are still well below normal and by definition the long-term drought is destined to prevail for a while longer. Canadian producers have proved many times that their resilience to extreme weather is extraordinary and they already are determined to get ahead of nature in 2024 by planting aggressively with the expectation that some of the driest conditions of the past few years may be over.

That may not be completely true, but the region of drier- and warmer-biased summer weather this year may shift to southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan allowing more rain to fall in western and northern portions of the Prairies. That, at least, is the hope of many farmers. Forecasters are anticipating a central US ridge of high pressure this June and July that my give drought one last hurrah. The potential is moderately high for the central and southern US Plains and southwestern Corn and Soybean Belt to see some short-term bouts of excessive heat this summer inducing some quick drying soil and the possible return of dry field conditions as the reproductive season for corn approaches.

In the meantime, though, the ridge of high pressure should be orientated in such a manner that multiple storm systems coming into the US Pacific Northwest will be forced northeast into Canada’s Prairies offering additional rain of significance for spring and summer crop development. The ridge of high pressure, though, may be strong enough to limit rain in the southeastern Prairies, leading to some concern over southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan summer precipitation. That concern may be greater a little farther to the south in the central United States. However, the recent wetter-biased weather in the central US does suggest — at least initially — that the ridge of high pressure will be weaker than first predicted, delaying the onset of the harshest summer weather conditions. That does not mean there will not be any extremes, but the period of extreme weather may be shortened as feedback moisture from the soil occurs in late May and early June.

If the southwest monsoon is going to improve this summer and drought is eased in Mexico then it might be a safe assumption to suggest that some of Mexico’s moisture might stream northward through the US Rocky Mountains and help breakdown or at least weaken the summer ridge of high pressure in August limiting the duration of hottest and driest weather. That is just speculation at this point in time, but it is a scenario that does need to be kept in the back of one’s mind.

In the meantime, the recent relief in Canada’s Prairies drought and the potential for additional rain later this growing season certainly offers some potential for improved production for many small grains, oilseeds and lentil crops in Alberta and western and northern Saskatchewan. Some dryness may still impact Alberta’s Peace River region, southern Manitoba and possibly southeastern Saskatchewan, though all of this is just speculation for now.

In the meantime, World Weather, Inc. believes China will have a good summer weather pattern, but parts of Russia and Kazakhstan may deal with some dryness. Australia’s winter wheat, barley and canola production areas should see relatively good weather this autumn and winter, despite some below normal precipitation in South Australia, Victoria and southwestern New South Wales. Argentina’s wheat and barley should perform well this autumn and winter, though spring in eastern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Paraguay and southern Brazil may trend a little too dry once again. 

Drew Lerner is senior agricultural meteorologist with World Weather, Inc. He may be reached at [email protected]. World Weather, Inc. forecasts and comments pertaining to present, past and future weather conditions included in this report constitute the corporation’s judgment as of the date of this report and are subject to change without notice.