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Published January 09, 2013, 12:10 PM

Better growing season ahead?

Expert anticipates more rain, but maybe not enough to end the drought.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The Northern Plains likely will see more rain this spring and early summer than it did in the same period last year, according to a prominent meteorologist.

But the additional precipitation may not be enough to lift the region out of drought, said Drew Lerner, who’s based in the Kansas City area.

Lerner spoke Tuesday in Devils Lake, N.D., at the annual Lake Region Extension Roundup. The two-day event concludes today.

More than 700 people are expected to attend each day of the event, sponsored by the North Dakota State University Extension Service and the crop improvement associations of Benson, Cavalier, Nelson, Ramsey, Rolette and Towner counties.

March and early April will be cool, with a “bias” toward dryness, although the latter doesn’t mean that no rain will fall, Lerner predicted.

Late April and May also will be cool, with normal or near-normal precipitation, he said.

“We’re going to have moisture to plant, but we’re not going to have subsoil moisture to speak of in some areas. Other areas will be OK,” he said.

He added that above-normal precipitation, which would recharge subsoil moisture, is needed to end drought completely.

Lerner also predicted that autumn could have “a little wetter bias,” but cautioned that much could change by then.

No dominant pattern

When a dominant global weather pattern such as El Nino is present, long-range weather predictions generally are reliable, Lerner said.

But the current lack of a dominant pattern forces forecasters to study other patterns that have less influence and that may not last as long, he said.

“Whatever patterns we’re looking at now, will have the potential to change in six to eight weeks,” he said. “Things may change as we get further down the road this particular spring more than any we’ve seen in the past five or six years.”

Other observations and predictions from Lerner:

•More rain in Texas and the rest of the Southern Plains would reduce the threat of another hot, dry summer on the Northern Plains.

•There’s no good reason to think the drought of 2012 will become an extended disaster. “Ignore those guys out there who tell you the end of the world is coming,” he said.

•Brazil, a major producer of oilseeds, is enjoying favorable weather and likely will have a good crop.

•The widely followed U.S. Drought Monitor, which is produced by a partnership of federal and academic scientists, isn’t always a fully accurate measure of crop growing conditions.

“It will hold on to drought longer than the rains occur. In other words, you may get two inches of rain next week and this chart will still show a pretty fierce drought in your area,” he said.

In reality, the precipitation may have been a huge boost to growing crops.

Lerner, who said he’s spent 34 years in the weather business, repeatedly cautioned his audience that long-range weather predictions always contain uncertainty.

“I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he joked.

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