April weather outlook bodes well for start of planting season

It appears farmers will have a better opportunity to plant crops this month compared to the previous two seasons, based on the latest weather outlook for April.

The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook calls for an increased chance of above normal temperatures and equal chances of above, normal and below normal precipitation this month.

“The six to 10-day outlook is showing strongly elevated odds of above average temperatures. We’re talking a 70 to 80% probability,” Trent Ford, state climatologist with the Illinois State Water Survey, told FarmWeek. “Some seven-day forecasts we’re seeing highs in central Illinois could break the upper 70s and even the 80s in some places.”

For the month as a whole, the current outlook has a 50 to 60% probability of above-normal temperatures for the entire state.

“Things are looking pretty good as far as getting fields in condition they need to be, drier and warmer, to get equipment out,” Ford said.

This follows conditions in March that were warmer and wetter than average. Preliminary numbers estimate a statewide average temperature last month of 45.9 degrees which, if realized, would be 4.5 degrees above the 1991-2020 average and the 13th warmest March on record.

“It would be the warmest March since 2012,” Ford said. “I’ve heard comparisons to 2012. But, despite this March being very warm, in the top 20, it’s still 10 degrees cooler on average than March 2012 (which averaged 55.4 degrees).”

Preliminary indications place precipitation last month at an average of 4.1 inches across the state. If realized, it would be 1.1 inches above the 1991-20 average, although amounts varied greatly across the state.

Much of southern Illinois received 7-8 inches of precipitation in March, with 4-5 inches in central Illinois and lesser amounts to the north.

“The first 10 days of March were actually really dry, then the fire hose got turned on to southern Illinois and parts of central Illinois and really didn’t shut off,” Ford said.

“In southern Illinois, that really wasn’t what you wanted. It put soils near saturation and we’ve seen some flooding,” the climatologist noted. “In central Illinois, the rain was much welcome. We saw tremendous improvement of soil moisture conditions.”

Topsoil moisture rated 29% surplus, 65% adequate and 6% short to very short statewide as of March 28.

Dryness issues the past month essentially shifted from the Interstate 72 corridor to the northeast into counties including Cook, Lake and McHenry, which received just 1 to 1.5 inches of rain in March.

“For whatever reason, the northeast corner of the state missed the vast majority of the heavier rain the past month,” Ford said. “The Drought Monitor has an expansion of abnormally dry conditions in that corner of the state.”

As for the past winter season, extreme conditions in February basically flipped the entire script.

“It was certainly a tale of two seasons,” Ford said. “January and December were much warmer than normal. But, because of (an intrusion of polar air) in February, winter temperatures ranged from right about the 1981-2010 normal to 3 to 4 degrees below normal in much of western and northwest parts of the state.

“We were also talking about a snow drought coming into February but, (due to an active month), snowfall ended up near normal in central Illinois, a little above normal in southern Illinois and 5 to 15 inches above normal in northern Illinois.”