A deepening upper air trough over the Great Lakes region brought an influx of cool Canadian air into the northwestern Corn Belt Sept. 5, resulting in isolated pockets of scattered frost from northwestern Minnesota southwest into the Nebraska Panhandle the morning of Sept. 6.
Weather data from the Nebraska Mesonet indicates that the site five miles northeast of Whitman reached a low of 30.5°F, while the weather site 15 miles north of Angora reached 32°F. The Alliance airport Automated Surface Observation System recorded a low of 29°F.
Although frost damage assessment reports are not yet available, temperature data would suggest that crop damage will be minimal and isolated to areas favored by cold air drainage. These low-lying areas are often five degrees colder than nearby stations in areas not prone to cold-air pooling.
With this first taste of frost, it is time to look at where Growing Degree Day (GDD) accumulations sit as we enter the final growth stretch of the 2017 agricultural production season. Table 1 (see full article here) lists GDD accumulations from three emergence dates separated by two-week intervals. All stations in this table have accumulated at least 2000 GDDs since an April 30 emergence, 1900 GDDs since May 15 emergence, and 1800 GDDs since May 31 emergence.
Forecast for Precipitation and a Cool Down
Statistics are nice, but ultimately future weather patterns, not history, will determine our hard freeze risk. The good news is that this quick cool down has shifted east and will put the Great Lakes region at the greatest risk for scattered frost the mornings Sept. 8-9. A gradual warming trend will end all talk of frost conditions for another week as the Great Lakes upper air trough is replaced by high pressure aloft.
For the western Corn Belt, the ridging pattern responsible for exceptionally hot, dry weather across the western third of the U.S. for the last month is projected to break down next week. As the upper air ridge builds eastward, an upper air trough will build into the Pacific Northwest. Current weather model depictions of this trough evolution place it in the vicinity of the central Plains as early as Sept. 15. This system is currently projected to bring widespread moisture to Nebraska Sept. 16-18.
As the system moves northeast of the central Plains, cool Canadian air is pulled southward into the northern Plains. It doesn’t appear that enough cold air will be pulled southward to favor frost development, but the secondary push around Sept. 22 does bear watching for freezing temperatures across the northern Plains and Great Lakes region.
Based on the National Weather Service 30-day forecast (Figure 1) and these current model forecasts, GDD accumulated totals for the next two weeks would add an additional 250-300 units to the totals in Table 1. By late September growers should expect just short of 400 accumulated GDD.
Hurricane Irma could significantly alter model performance of future events. There is considerable uncertainty in regards to the overall storm track as it approaches Florida Sunday morning. It is currently expected to turn due north once it reaches southern Florida, then race northward into the eastern coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.
If it doesn’t make this turn, the eastern Gulf of Mexico region would be the most likely landfall area, with a few outlier models moving the system into Louisiana or northeastern Texas.
If Irma does continue northwestward into the western half of the Gulf of Mexico, it could link up with the western U.S. trough that will be developing next week. This could enhance precipitation in the western Corn Belt and lead to much colder air forecasted for the end of next week.