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Ag Weather Update

Matt Dixon, Meteorologist

UK Ag Weather Center

Updated 10-4-23 at 6:30 PM EDT

Another dry fall in KY & impacts on agriculture

September is now in our rear-view mirror and it was a VERY dry month for the Bluegrass State. Overall, preliminary data from the Ag Weather Center shows the state only averaged 1.93 inches of rainfall, which is well over an inch below normal. Looking at monthly rankings, 2023 would place in the top-25 of all-time driest Septembers on record in Kentucky.

This average would have been a lot lower if not for an active pattern last week. A slow-moving disturbance sparked multiple rounds of showers and storms midweek, ultimately leading to state average of 1.07 inches. Saying that, some folks missed out again. While much of Central KY and the Bluegrass saw a half to 2+ inches, portions of the Purchase and far Eastern KY struggled to see a tenth. The latter saw some decent accumulations earlier in September, but dry conditions have been commonplace across the Purchase over the past month. Below is a look at departure-from-normal precipitation for the month of September. Much of the Purchase and Central KY ran 1-3 inches below normal over that timespan.

Kentucky is not alone when looking at surrounding states that saw a dry September. In fact, preliminary data from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center suggests that Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri all ran well below normal this past month, too. If verified, the Ohio average of 1.06 inches would place in the top-5 driest Septembers on record for the Buckeye State. The dryness has led to quite the expansion in 'abnormally dry' and 'drought' conditions across the Ohio Valley (image to the right). In fact, on the August 29th update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio didn't have any shades of color on the map.

The map above was put together prior to the rainfall last Wednesday and Thursday. In doing so, we'll likely see some improvements on this map tomorrow, but also some degradations for folks that missed on significant rainfall. Unfortunately, we need a lot more than last weeks rain to fix some long-term issues, mainly in the form of low river levels on the Lower Mississippi River and impacts on grain transport. The Ohio River Basin is a large contributor to the flow of the Lower Mississippi and the dry conditions over the past month haven't helped matters. Below is a look at a couple river gauges on the Mississippi, one at New Madrid, Missouri and the other a little farther south at Osceola, Arkansas. Both are currently running below 'low water thresholds' and forecasts continue to show a decline over the upcoming couple weeks.

This isn't exactly a surprise considering our rain chances ahead. Our next chance arrives tomorrow and into Thursday night ahead of a cold front. Totals accumulations are likely under a half inch for just about everyone. A quarter may be a struggle for some. Yes, it's much welcomed, but we need more! Outside of this system, we stay dry and cool through the weekend (more about that later). Looking ahead, precipitation outlooks (below) favor near normal rainfall through the middle of October, but this comes with a problem.....October is our driest month of the year in Kentucky, so "normal" isn't exactly anything too significant.

Bottom line, we're not expecting any improvement on the Mississippi anytime soon and that presents some problems for Kentucky agriculture. This will be year number two with similar low water problems in place and money is on the line. Dr. Grant Gardner, a UK Extension Professor in Commodity Marketing, tackled this topic in a recent article from Southern Ag Today, where he discusses the economic impacts to the agricultural sector as barge rates increase. Unfortunately for us, an El Nino this winter could spell more issues for Kentucky as below normal wintertime precipitation usually accompanies this pattern. Something to watch. Below is a look at the most current river data compared to past low water events from the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center.

A couple other topics we need to think about as it relates to the dry weather are 1) impacts on our pastures and 2) fire potential. Looking at the first issue, the latest release of Kentucky Forage News points to some "Fall Grazing Dos and Don'ts". Most notably; don't overgraze, give pastures time to rest, and control weeds! Give it a look!

Secondly, while harvest progress will likely be aided by dry conditions in place, the threat of fires will increase. I've already heard numerous reports of machinery and field fires over the past couple weeks. Sure, rain tomorrow will subside some concerns, but we have a LONG ways to go before the harvest season is officially over. Purdue has an excellent article on the topic, here. As they mentioned, we "to be proactive and prevent or reduce the chance of fires before they happen!" Inspect machinery ahead of harvest, but also have a couple fire extinguishers ready-to-go! Also, don't think this only applies to combines, I've heard plenty of issues surrounding baling this fall, too. One example is from Mercer County to the right, where a gear box got hot while mowing and had just enough dry material to ignite a small fire. It's a little hard to see, but you get the point! Luckily, these folks got the fire out before it spread to the rest of the field!

While Kentucky's ran dry recently, it's also been relatively warm for this time of year. Well...that's about to come to an abrupt end, at least in the short term. Behind the cold front mentioned above, highs this weekend will struggle in the upper 50s and low 60s. Lows will drop well into the 40s and many will even dip into the 30s on Sunday morning. Some into the middle 30s across the eastern half of KY, which will prompt some concerns for patchy frost. Monday morning will be a similar story. Get those sweatshirts out and put the chili on the stove! It's time!

Moving forward, we return to near normal for this time of year next week and outlooks keep that trend in place through the middle of October. After the cool spell this weekend, it looks to be a while before the next shot of getting into the 30s!

I'll be talking about these subjects and more at 2PM EDT tomorrow on the October 2023 KY Monthly Climate Perspective, a monthly webinar hosted by the Kentucky Climate Center. Feel free to join using Zoom or YouTube! Hope to see you there!

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Related News from UK and Beyond

Kentucky Crop Progress and Condition Report - USDA NASS Kentucky Field Office, October 2, 2023

At Mother Nature’s mercy, dry conditions impacting Kentucky farmers - Aimee Nielson with UK Ag Communications, September 22, 2023

Kentucky Beef Cattle Newsletter "Off the Hoof" - UK Beef IRM Team, October 3, 2023

Kentucky Winter Wheat Production up 35% from 2022 - USDA, NASS, Kentucky Field Office, September 29, 2023

October 2023 Cow County News - Kentucky Cattlemen's Association, published on September 20, 2023

Kentucky Forage News - October 3, 2023

Lawn Care for Busy People - Horticulture Webinar Wednesday,

History of the hottest summer day at thousands of U.S. locations - Rebecca Lindsey with, September 21, 2023


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