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March 16, 2011

Deep Snowpack in Northern U.S. Could Delay Spring Fieldwork

There is a huge amount of snow in the Dakotas and Minnesota that needs to melt before farmers in the region can even think about spring fieldwork. On a recent trip to Aberdeen, South Dakota, the amount of snow was eye popping. In northern South Dakota, many places had 3-4 feet of snow on level ground with huge snow drifts around wind breaks and farm buildings. There were places you could not see the top of the fence posts due to the depth of the snow. All the rivers and lakes in the region are frozen and snow covered with no open water. In the driveways and parking lots there are still mountains of snow.

Farmers in the region would like to see the snow melt sooner rather than later, but a rapid melt would certainly result in spring flooding. The situation is most acute along the Red River which borders the states of North Dakota and Minnesota. The Red River flows north to Winnipeg which means that it melts from south to north. Melting in the southern reaches of the river while it's still frozen in the northern reaches, can result is huge ice jams and subsequent flooding.

On the other hand, if the snow melts slowly, severe flooding may be avoided, but spring fieldwork could be delayed even more. After one of the most severe winters in recent memory, there are just no good options going into the spring.