A Difficult And Strange Season Of Weather

Carmen Black at Sundog Farm

By Carmen Black

(Editor’s Note: Iowa Farmers deal with an existential reality that is the weather. Regardless of increasingly polarized discussions about climate change, weather affects real people in tangible ways. Carmen recently wrote this piece to members of her Community Supported Agriculture project Local Harvest.)

The weather has been consistently challenging from the late spring to immediately hot May, from lots of rain to this current dry spell. There hasn’t been a catastrophic weather event, but all these different difficult weather conditions create more work to keep everything growing well.

I’ve been thinking more about it as we’ve been observing its impacts while harvesting more of the summer crops. I’ve talked to many other farmers (including folks that grow other types of crops) about the challenges of this season, and anecdotally it seems like the conditions have been hard on many types of crops and livestock alike. One of things that has struck me about this year is that it hasn’t been just one way like really hot or really wet, but every month has brought a different extreme to contend with. It’s made me wonder if it’s all this erraticness that’s been stressful to the plants and animals rather than just the heat or just the late spring.

I was curious to find out if the weather has just felt difficult to us or if it really has been extreme in the grand scheme of things, so I did a little internet research for weather data. What I found was interesting, and did seem to affirm my feeling that this year really has been weird. This was the coldest April on record (since records began in 1895), and was on average 10 degrees colder than normal. It was also somehow both the 5th snowiest April and the 13th driest April, which seemed a little ironic. 2018 tied for the 6th warmest May with 1887, and the average temperature was about seven degrees warmer than normal. Des Moines had three consecutive daily record highs from May 26-28. I was surprised that in Cedar Rapids the daily record highs for the end of May were all held by 1931 or 1934, and then I realized that was the dust bowl! June was the 10th warmest and 10th wettest June on record. July seems to have been pretty average after all those top 20 finishes for the previous months, as it was the 54th coolest July and the 47th driest July on record. Which I think kind of puts the extremeness of the previous months in perspective. Kind of nice to have an average month finally.

Anyhow, my main takeaway is that this year really does seem to be remarkably erratic when you look at the numbers, and it makes sense that plants and animals would respond unpredictably to all of these changes in the weather. I feel both good that I wasn’t making up that the weather has been extreme in many different ways this season, and kind of bad that it really has been historically weird this year. The fact that it took the dust bowl to beat this year out for daily heat records in May felt kind of grim.

Some crops like onions seem to have really suffered from this weather. You may have noticed that they’ve been smaller than normal this year, and after getting most of onion harvest done last week I’m sorry to report that many of the longer season onions are even smaller. This was especially disappointing to me after such a bountiful onion harvest of really giant ones last summer, but I think makes sense considering what we were up against. We planted more than 3 weeks later than we did last year because it kept snowing, and then had to irrigate the onions (which we hardly ever have to do) because it was so dry. We struggled to keep the weeds under control in the onion field in June when it was so wet, and spent almost a week wallowing in the mud trying to hand weed. All in all I’m glad we have some onions to show for all of it, and have a few ideas of things to try in case this ever happens again.

I also have to say that some crops seem to have really thrived in this weather. We’ve never had such a good cucumber or spring carrot crop before, both of which are crops that we have historically struggled to produce large quantities of for several weeks in a row. The combination of having plenty of carrots and cucumbers has felt like a great accomplishment, and I hope that we’re able to replicate it in a better weather year as well!

~ Carmen Black farms in Cedar Township in Johnson County, Iowa.

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