Summer heat & St. Louis soil moisture’s sweet spot


ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Recent rain has been tough on farmers during the planting season. But wet soil heading into summer can be a good thing because the heat can change conditions quickly, in a matter of weeks to months.

“We got a lot of soil moisture, more than we really want right now in the spring. But time will tell with summer we can go the other way and have those drought conditions,” says Waterloo Farmer, Dale Haudrich.

The St. Louis metropolitan area and the surrounding communities are currently untouched by the dry conditions in a large portion of the United States.

“Right now we have a drought going on to our north, down to our west, and a little bit off to our southwest. But not really here,” says Mark Fuchs, Senior Service Hydrologist with The National Weather Service St. Louis. “We kind of are in a sweet spot. Will that last? It’s not likely.”

The first four months of 2021 have brought above-average rainfall for every month, except February. February’s deficit is not big, sitting at 0.6″ below average.

“St. Louis is doing great this year. We’ve had plenty of rain,” Fuchs explains. “It’s been spread out so the flooding that we’ve had hasn’t been all that terrible.”

Farmers are optimistic for the warmer and drier summer months ahead.

“We’re gamblers. We put all our eggs in that basket and hope mother nature cooperates throughout the year,” Haudrich says.

Summer heat is capable of changing soil moisture quickly. St. lLuis has seen it before.

“Now temperatures are expected to be above average and that could be an issue in terms of evaporation,” Fuchs says. “What we try to do is be on the lookout, especially as we get into the warm season for what we call flash drought. That is the rapid deterioration of conditions because of the onset of summer.”

The last flash drought of 2012 was when low dew points caused evporation at an excellerated rate.

“We went from basically D-0, what we call D-nada, across St. Charles County and parts of St. Louis County that year, to widespread D-3 in a matter of two months. That’s very fast,” said Fuchs.

Luckily, improvements from flash droughts can happen just as quick, which is essential for the corn on the dinner table.

Even in desperate times, plants protect themselves with roots expanding up to 18” in the ground. New technology allowing for growth in summer heat and dryness, like the artesian hybrid, which can survive drier than normal stretches. Luckily NOAAs three-month rain outlook shows St. Louis staying in the sweet spot.

“We are in great shape this year and our outlook is reasonable is reasonable,” Fuchs says. “We are looking at a likelihood of above normal precip to the east of the Mississippi River and near-normal likelihoods across Missouri.”

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