While farmers on the western Plains watched for any sign of a rain cloud this spring, farmers in the central Corn Belt wondered if they would ever go away.

The searing drought of 2002 only made things worse out West, and reminded Midwest farmers to be careful what they wish for.

The weather maker, El Niño, offers some hope that those weather extremes may even out this fall and into next spring, according to Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University extension climatologist and agronomist. “El Niño has had a sputtering start this year, but still holds some promise for good weather this fall,” Taylor says. “It likely will have enough effect to avoid late-season heat waves and could help delay early-season frosts.

“This El Niño also has the promise of a different moisture distribution pattern than what we've seen recently,” he says. “It has the potential to break the drought in the Southern Rockies, High Plains and Eastern Seaboard states and reduce the excess moisture received by the Ohio River Valley region.”

Taylor predicts that the more favorable moisture possibilities in the Great Plains bodes well for winter crops and that trend will continue into the 2003 crops in the western Corn Belt.

Weather extremes have made averages fairly meaningless this year, according to Jim Beuerlein, Ohio State University extension agronomist. “In the northern half of the state, the weather bureau says we received about 1-2" less than normal rainfall through early August. But, we received all the rain early in the growing season,” he says. “With almost no rain in June and July, there was absolutely no moisture and we became totally dependent on rainfall.”

For updated information on drought conditions across the U.S., visit: www.drought.unl.edu/dm/index.html.