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Weather expert: Mixed bag on 2015 growing season

Though the first half of the Upper Midwest 2015 growing season should be favorable, the second half could bring challenges, including the possibility of "one of the hottest summers on record," according to an area weather expert.

Though the first half of the Upper Midwest 2015 growing season should be favorable, the second half could bring challenges, including the possibility of "one of the hottest summers on record," according to an area weather expert.

"We have some encouraging things to look forward to, but there are some things we need to be aware of that could be potential challenges as we move forward," said Leon Osborne with the Regional Weather Information Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Osborne spoke Dec. 11 at the annual Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks. The two-day event, which began Dec. 10, was sponsored by eight Minnesota and North Dakota agricultural organizations and attracted more than 700 people, most of them from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

The conference included presentations on a wide range of subjects, including railroad service, grain marketing, risk management and new research into wheat and soybeans.

Osborne speaks every year at the conference. His presentation, which features his forecast for the winter of 2015 and the subsequent growing season, is one of the event's highlights.

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Among his predictions for the coming year:

•The next few months will bring stretches of both unusually warm and unusually cold weather across most of the Upper Midwest. Winter precipitation is likely to be limited.

"It will be either very cold or very warm," Osborne said. "It looks like the moisture opportunity is going to be a bit on the bleak side."

•April through June temperatures and precipitation will be near normal across the region.

Recent springs have brought cold, wet conditions that delayed and hampered planting. Osborne's prediction for 2015 would be a welcome change for area farmers who struggled to get in their crops.

"That would be a shock to most of your systems because you haven't seen that," he said.

•July through September temperatures will be above normal in most of the region, and near normal in Minnesota.

"We could be looking at one of the hottest summers on record," he said. "Across the Northern Plains it could get very hot," especially in late July to the middle of August.

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•July through September precipitation will be near normal overall in most of the region. July and August will be dry, followed by a wet September. Southern South Dakota faces the biggest threat of too little moisture.

"As we get later into the year, there are some bumps in the road that we need to deal with. Will we see the thunderstorms develop?" he said.

Many area crops rely on moisture from July and August thunderstorms to develop properly.

A number of global weather conditions affect the Upper Midwest's outlook for 2015.

They include drought in California: expanding polar ice, a result of large amounts of cold air to the north; and the location of the polar and sub-tropical jet streams.

A jet stream is an area of strong winds that transports weather patterns.

"We're caught between these two jet steam patterns, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon," he said.

There's also a good chance that El Nino will develop and affect Upper Midwest weather. If so, however, the impact would be short-lived, Osborne said.

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El Nino is a complex weather pattern that results from variations in water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino can contribute to cooler, wetter weather in the Upper Midwest during the growing season.

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