So far, so good on the weather front for spring. But summer doesn't paint as pretty a picture, according to Tony Lupo, University of Missouri climatologist.

“Spring weather promises to be within the range we consider normal,” Lupo says. “But the middle part of the country has been dry through much of fall and winter, so we'll need normal or above spring precipitation,” he adds.

From March through May, Lupo predicts that temperatures in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. will be normal for the season, with highs in the 50s in March and into the mid-70s by early May in central Missouri and southern Illinois.

In the June-August period, rainstorms will be more scattered and erratic than usual.

“General storms that cover large areas of the country will not be very common,” says Larry Acker, with 3F Forecasts, Polo, IL. “This is due to a major storm cycle that began in July 1999, and will last 12½ years. Also, we have an El Niño in place, and this El Niño should grow in intensity.

“We see a dry cycle beginning about May 25, and that will certainly play a role on crop growth this season,” adds Acker. “Especially after July 10, it will be dry until at least mid-September, before any real rain cycles begin. There's a hope for rain in mid-August, but that may be only a storm system or two moving through the central U.S.”

As a result, Acker projects warmer and drier weather virtually nationwide this summer. The exceptions would be wetter-than-normal in the extreme Southwest, and a strip of cooler-than-usual weather from New England through eastern North Carolina (see summer map).

As Acker notes, the 2002 corn and soybean crops may thrive or suffer, depending on their stage of growth when those irregular showers hit.

“I don't expect a disaster, but corn yields should be off from last year by 5 bu or so per acre,” he says. “If farmers plant 78.5 million acres with 72 million acres harvested for grain, we expect the 2002 crop to be 9.575 billion bushels.

“Soybeans face the same conditions as corn, but it may be tougher to get a decent crop due to dry weather during pod fill,” he adds. “The kind of summer we expect will favor soybean aphids and possibly spider mites over a sizeable area, especially if we fail to get those strong rains in mid-August.”

With an expected soybean planting of 76 million acres with 73 million harvested, Acker expects a bean crop of 2.55 billion bushels.

“That would be an average yield of about 35 bu/acre — a little below last year's,” he says. “If the August rains do not show up, we won't do this well.”

Due to the disastrous market, cotton growers may divert some of their acres to either milo or soybeans.

“Growing conditions look better for the South than for the Corn Belt proper,” says Acker. “Spring should be decent, with enough rain to get the crop off to a good start. The summer season may not be quite as good, but probably no worse than last year for much of the southern U.S. In fact, the effects of El Niño may help out. However, summer winds will be above normal, and this may be the most limiting factor on cotton production.”

If 12 million acres are put to cotton, fairly good growing conditions could still see a big crop — 19.8 million bales or so.

“But if the U.S. dollar weakens to allow more exports, this huge cotton supply may not be as threatening to prices as many people expect,” Acker says.

On the other side of the globe, both China and Russia may be in for more crop problems this year.

“If so, China will have had three dry years in a row; something we've not seen in modern history,” says Acker. “Both China and Russia are below normal for moisture right now, and the models show a dry summer for Russia. This will be a very interesting year to watch crops and markets worldwide, especially after early July.”