KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Rainy weather in the US Midwest and Delta this spring challenged some producers to get their crops planted. Many were concerned they were not going to get planted, but success eventually occurred. A notable change in weather occurred during the second week of June in which tropical activity in the Gulf of Mexico blocked moisture from flowing northward into the previously wettest areas at the same time a high-pressure ridge developed aloft. The sudden shutoff of rain was reminiscent of 1983 when similar conditions occurred, although at a more significant degree of intensity.

It is hard to believe that 1983 was 41 years ago and yet the drought of 1983 will live in infamy because of the impact it had on US production. A wet spring with flooding and serious planting delays in the Midwest, Delta, southern Plains and southeastern states was followed by a quick shutoff of rain that starved crops and led to huge reductions in corn and soybean production that year.

Improved farming practices and technology helped farms get planted despite the wetter bias this year. Back in the 1980s farm equipment was smaller and less efficient and rain delays were more impactful, although it must be admitted that the frequency and intensity of this spring’s rain was not quite as extreme as that of 1983. Nevertheless, the drying that evolved in the second week of June was quick and puts some of these important crop areas in a position of seeing moisture stress within two to three weeks if the trend from 1983 is followed again.

World Weather, Inc. does not believe the 1983 drought will be repeated this summer; however, a flavor of 1983 will be with us. Research on El Niño to La Niña years brought up 1983 long before the precipitation parallel developed recently. Apparently 1983 was a year like this one in which El Niño was prevalent in the first quarter of the year and La Niña evolved during July and August, similar to what is now being predicted for 2024.

Other years included in this class of El Niño to La Niña years include 1998 and 2016, and when creating precipitation composites for these three years World Weather, Inc. found some interesting parallels that are already underway. First, there was a notable wet bias in the upper Midwest during the summers of these three analog years. There was also a tendency for wet weather in Illinois, western Indiana and the northern fringes of the Delta.

A wet bias recently has evolved in the upper Midwest and rainfall will end up significantly above normal in Minnesota, Wisconsin and a few neighboring states this month to possibly thwart the summer rain totals above normal in that region, much like that of 1983, 1998 and 2016. It also is interesting to note that the three-year composite produced below-normal precipitation from Kansas into west and north-central Texas and dryness from the heart of the Delta through the southeastern states and then up along most of the Atlantic Coast states. These drier tendencies are already in place, although it is difficult to say whether the anomalies will prevail through the entire summer. Nonetheless, the parallel is in place now, raising the need for close monitoring of weather in the next few weeks.

Summer weather in 1983, 2016 and 1998 also trended wetter and cooler biased in the western United States. That potential has not evolved yet, although there is potential for that once the southwest monsoon kicks in because of the negative phase of Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is also in place, which usually produces a deep trough of low pressure in the western United States during the summer. If the influence of PDO is significant and the southwest monsoon develops normally in July the above-normal rainfall bias and cooler-than-usual temperatures in western North America is certainly achievable.

One more interesting parallel is the wet weather noted in southern Texas in the three analog years. The tropical cyclone that just recently impacted northeastern Mexico and southern Texas brought enough rain to make those areas notably wet — at least for now.

Temperatures in the Great Plains, Midwest, Delta and southeastern states during the three El Niño to La Niña analog years were above normal and that fits very well with some of the lunar cycle data World Weather, Inc. has been reviewing. Earlier this spring research in the lunar (or 18-year cycle) data revealed a high association with summer dryness in the central United States during the summer and very warm temperatures. However, spring weather this year failed to follow the lunar cycle years during the spring, raising question over the potential for summer to be as hot and dry as some of those years were.

As it turns out, the one lunar cycle year that seems to have had some influence on US spring weather was 1970. A blending of leftover El Niño influences and the pattern from 1970 seemed to fit relatively well with the spring weather anomalies. World Weather, Inc. then took the three El Niño to La Niña analog years and melded them with 1970 to get what looks like a reasonable expectation for the summer of 2024.

If the research and resulting forecast is correct summer is likely to trend drier than usual this year in the Great Plains, portions of the Delta and from the southeastern corner of the United States through the far eastern Midwest, to New York and parts of New England. A wetter bias is possible in a part of the upper Midwest and “possibly” in a few counties in the heart of the Midwest. Mid- to late-July and August rain should increase in the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain region and temperatures the western US will trend cooler than usual — especially in the Great Basin, California and the southern Rocky Mountain region.

Much of the research suggested the central and southern US Plains (excluding southern Texas) will be hottest and driest.  There is potential for some impressive heat in the region periodically. There is support for the Atlantic Coast states to be drier than usual because of a weak and poorly defined subtropical high-pressure system in the Atlantic that may steer tropical cyclones paralleling the coast, but not pushing them inland resulting in below-normal rainfall.

Overall, a flavor of 1983 will be present this year, but the kind of damage to production that occurred in that year is not likely. Weather conditions may be a little less favorable relative to those of 2023, but still not a terrible year. The temperature anomalies will have the most to say about production and there is potential for hotter weather in 2024 than in 2023, which may pressure production lower in some areas.

 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.