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Ag Weather Update

Matt Dixon, Meteorologist

UK Ag Weather Center

Updated 3-23-22

Growing Season 2022 on the Horizon

Spring is officially here and agriculture is starting to show some signs of life in the Bluegrass State. I’m even seeing some farmers throwing beans in the ground (more on that below). Just to put a wrap on the 2021-22 winter season, it was another warm and wet one for Kentucky. Overall, it was our 17th wettest winter on record (data back to 1985) with the state averaging 15.97 inches of precipitation (liquid equivalent). In addition, it was also our 18th warmest winter on record.

This has very much been a trend over the past decade. The time series scatterplot below shows the distribution of winter seasons since 1991-92, according to average temperature and precipitation across the state. These years are then divided into four quadrants subdivided by the 1991-2020 precipitation and temperature normals for the winter season. I highlighted the past six winter seasons in red. See a trend? Outside of a cooler 2020-21 winter season, all the others generally show up in the top right quadrant, showing winters with above normal temperatures and precipitation. Our winters have definitely trended wetter and warmer over the past decade; 2021-22 was no different.


How do we look going into the 2022 growing season? Following our wet winter, it’s actually been a drier March for the Commonwealth, but I don’t think anyone is complaining. Through March 21st, data at the Ag Weather Center shows the state has averaged 2.15 inches, which is roughly three quarters of an inch below normal over that timespan. Despite a drier than normal March so far, above normal precipitation over the winter has kept us in great shape for soil moisture going into the spring season and drought is a non-issue. Below is the latest look of the U.S. Drought Monitor. As you can see, much of the Ohio Valley is not showing any signs of abnormally dry conditions, while our friends across the Western Corn Belt are on the other side of the spectrum (drought conditions in place). 


The new seasonal outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center hint that this trend will continue over the upcoming few months. The forecasters show slightly higher confidence in above normal precipitation for much of Kentucky (equal chances for below, near normal, or above for Western KY). The opposite can be said for the Western Corn Belt. Temperature-wise, forecasters hint at warmer months ahead, which would be quite the reversal from what we saw in 2021 to start the growing season.


While the three-month outlook does suggest a warmer spring, that doesn’t mean we can’t have cool spells now and then. I’ve seen several posts last week on social media that soybeans are starting to be planted. Keep in mind that the AVERAGE last freeze date for much of Western and Central Kentucky is over the first and second week of April (see below). Sure, emergence might take a while in the short term with cooler weather on the way (more below), but the dates below are an AVERAGE. Our last freeze can occur a little later as we've seen in recent years.


Soil temperatures are another important factor. As Dr. Carrie Knott said in this article from 2020, 2-inch soil temperatures “need to reach and sustain at least 50 degrees F, and there needs to be no risk for a killing freeze.” Despite a warmer previous week or so, we are looking at chilly temperatures over the second half of the week and even the possibility of some dropping below freezing on Sunday morning. In tracking soil temperatures, the Kentucky Mesonet is an excellent resource, with many stations recording at multiple depths across the state.

Grain crops may just be starting to go in the ground, but fruit crops are starting to wake up and the time to start scouting alfalfa weevil is approaching. Dr. Ric Bessin, a UK Entomology Extension Specialist, talked about the scouting process and insecticide recommendations in a recent Kentucky Pest News article titled, “Spring is Coming….So is Alfalfa Weevil.” He advised that growers start scouting fields when 190 degree days (base 48) have accumulated in their area. If you are not familiar with degree days, they are used to relate temperature to crop or pest development. The UK Ag Weather Center has a degree day model for tracking these numbers for your county. The latest map is listed below. These numbers are something to watch over the next couple weeks, especially in Western and South-Central Kentucky.

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Kentucky has a cold front splitting through the state as of 2:30 EDT this afternoon (3/23) and will continue to progress east through the evening hours. The exit of this boundary will bring precipitation to an end for the most part. We’ve seen some severe storms this afternoon (eastern half of KY), capable of damaging winds and large hail. A tornado watch (image below) has also been issued for Northeastern KY with a few tornadoes possible. More info on the watch, here. Be sure to take shelter if under a warning! Outside of storms, winds will become gusty along and ahead of the cold front, exceeding 30 mph at times. We’ve even seen some gusts top 40.


Outside of some very light, isolated to scattered showers the next few days, most will likely stay dry. The next chance for significant rainfall looks to hold off until the middle stages of next workweek. Below is a look at the latest 7-day precipitation forecast from the Weather Prediction Center with most of the state seeing a quarter to three quarters of an inch. Saying that, most is forecast to fall with that mid-week system, which still contains much uncertainty. 


Looking at temperatures, we’ll be on the cool side for late March with highs only topping out in the 50s through the remainder of the week. Normal highs for the last week of March run in the upper 50s to middle 60s. Low temperatures will be coolest on Sunday morning, dipping into the upper 20s to low 30s. Luckily, we warm up going into early next workweek. Outlooks then lean toward near normal temperatures for the end of March and first week of April, while also showing slightly higher confidence in above normal rainfall. As it sits now, outside of the cooler temperatures on Sunday morning, I’m not seeing any major cold spells on the horizon.

Related News from UK and Beyond

UK Corn and Soybean Newsletter - March 2022

Summary of Severe Weather (March 18-19, 2022) - National Weather Service, Louisville, KY

Kentuckians can help prevent spread of invasive plants - Jordan Strickler, UK Ag Communications, March 17, 2022


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