2018 Weather: A Forecast Farmers Can Warm to

By Geoff Geddes

Canadian weather is harder to foresee than a toddler’s behaviour. While forecasts are never perfect, staying on top of the latest predictions for 2018 can be good for your bottom line. The North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) is a network of 91 weather stations throughout North Dakota, eastern Montana and western Minnesota. Interim Director Daryl Ritchison applies his 25 years of experience as a meteorologist and goes where many fear to tread: trying to predict the unpredictable.

“I look at similar weather patterns from the past and what is happening with the oceans and atmosphere,” said Ritchison. “I then take comparable years and merge them to produce an average.”

As he consults his crystal ball, he can’t tell your fortune, but he does see a fortunate year ahead for prairie producers.

Here comes the sun

“I expect that 2018 will be 0.5 to 1°C warmer than 2017. That should bring us some extra growing days which are a big positive in cool climates.”

When it comes to weather, nothing matters more than moisture, and Ritchison anticipates a good news/bad news scenario on that front. Though he’s calling for rainfall to be 20-40 mm below average, and for drier conditions in the southern sections of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, dryness should be less of an issue than in 2017.

“Keep in mind that in a climate where most precipitation comes from thunderstorms, you’re bound to get high variability. Even so, unless your acreage is one that misses all the storms, you should have a better year in 2018.”

Of course, good weather news rarely comes without bad weather news, and 2018 is no exception.

Giving spring the cold shoulder

“I think it will be cooler than average in March, April, and May by 2 to 3°C, so there may be some planting delays this spring. At the same time, we should get more normal precipitation in March and April than we got last year, where we started out dry and never recovered from that. In a nutshell, I’d say March and April will be kinder to us moisture-wise, but not necessarily weather-wise.”

Some reviewers were less than kind when Ritchison suggested that farmers shouldn’t get too caught up with drought monitor maps right now and said, “to me, you can’t have a drought in the winter because it’s always dry.”

“A lot of people were angry with me for saying that, but ‘winter droughts’ are an oxymoron. If we get 50 percent of normal moisture in the winter people tend to panic, yet it just means we need one rain system to catch us back up. After last year, our best hope for making up ground with moisture is the spring of 2018, as we just don’t average much precipitation in the winter, and that’s okay.”

Baby steps

Overall, Ritchison expects soybean growers to have a better 2018 than 2017. That said, he points out that since last year was worse than average, yields and returns won’t be as strong as they would be if it were one good year following another. And like any wise meteorologist, he includes a caveat with his forecasts.

“I always remind people that while I get paid to predict the weather, my projections are based on pattern recognition, so nothing is written in stone. So far, though, winter has been going according to schedule, which gives me confidence that what I’ve been saying over the last several weeks will come to pass.”

Just don’t ask him to figure out your toddler. He may be good at what he does, but he can’t work miracles.