I predict the weather in 2013 will be...
By Ken Root
This column is about weather, therefore it is 100 percent speculation. I don’t know what the weather will be for the growing season of 2013, despite the fact that I have advanced honorary degrees in amateur meteorology that were awarded based on my observations of drought and flood for the past 64 years. Each spring, I prognosticate on what the weather will be and each year I am wrong. If I had bet my weather predictions using the futures market, I would be writing this from a homeless shelter. But saying all this does not make me, or anyone else, stop making forecasts to ourselves, our friends or anyone who will listen.
The beauty of predicting the weather is that there is no penalty for being wrong. The weather people on TV, good looking as they may be, are partly or completely wrong on a sizable percentage of their forecasts, but we watch them anyway because they show moving maps, projected storm tracks and nice graphics of the short-term and extended high and low temperatures. Some used to apologize when they missed a forecast, but they no longer point out when they were wrong or right because we really don’t care.
My favorite is the climatologists who predict the past. They are right every time. We employ an eloquent gentleman in Iowa who has predicted a drought every year since 1988; until last year, when he predicted a “50-50” chance. He was right! Now he is taking credit, and is even more revered, as a great prognosticator who predicted the drought of 2012.
This is one reason why I’m having trouble buying into the extremes of climate change. Granted, the overall temperature is rising but the end result of more severe weather is still in question. We have had such extreme weather from the 1870s through present day that I don’t see that storms will be worse in the future. As my favorite Iowa climatologist says: “I don’t predict anything worse than that which has already happened.”
So, here we are on the front edge of the 2013 growing season. The Plains are dry, which is their dominant feature. The Midwest is normal in the east and dry in the west. The whole area rarely gets the same moisture or heat index for the summer. It seems to rotate east-west and north-south. Last summer, the worst conditions were in Indiana and Wisconsin, and this summer, it looks like the worst will be in western Iowa.
Spring is later this year than last. 2012 had a very warm March. It popped dormancy on fruit trees and encouraged weeds to spring up and grow vigorously before farmers felt it was safe to plant crops. The fields took on a brown color when post planting herbicides were applied. Even with those indications, no one predicted drought until June.
I predict that farmers will plant every acre that Mother Nature doesn’t prevent them from seeding. I predict crop insurance will be in force on virtually every acre. I predict this will be a profitable year in the Midwest no matter what the yield. A short crop may serve farmers best as the fall crop insurance price will be higher and the world price will remain high for another year.
Getting back to trend line yield for corn (163.6 bushels per acre) seems far-fetched right now so the likelihood of a 14.6 billion bushel crop is low. I contend that it is a good thing, as farmers have fared worse in periods of glut than in periods of shortage. I’d like to present my premise “every crop is worth the same” to an economist. It could produce a column: “Economists are almost as accurate as meteorologists.”
I also predict that farmers will be “hand to mouth” on moisture through the summer as the subsoil was badly depleted last year and will have little chance to recharge on the short term. It would be nice for the rivers to flow enough to keep recreationists happy and barge traffic going, so I’ve ordered enough rainfall for that.
I also predict that there will be declining levels of darkness until late June. Have you ever thought of the power of the person who figured out how to predict an eclipse of the moon or sun? There’s not a meteorologist out there who wouldn’t like to have something like that up his sleeve.
In reality, the unknowns make life interesting. We learn more every year but we still know very little about the natural processes of our environment. We can see the weather from space and we can record all kinds of measurements worldwide, but we can’t do anything other than “model” the forecast to approximate what happened the last time these conditions occurred. For a farmer, a gardener or anyone who finds the natural world exhilarating, the challenge would be less enjoyable if we knew what would happen in the future.
Please keep track of my predictions and contact me with documented proof that I was wrong. That is a wonderful pastime for those who enjoy spending their lives pointing out inaccuracies by others. Like predicting the weather, it occupies the mind but, in the final analysis, doesn’t really amount to anything.
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.