Spring weather outlook: It's a good one - at least for short term

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The weather pattern that has brought unseasonable warmth to Indiana and kept the state relatively dry since January is expected to stay for a while longer yet, the Indiana State Climate Office says.

"What you see is what you get," said state climatologist Dev Niyogi, based at Purdue University. "Our outlook is for more of the same. We've got a pattern going on here."

Although flowers in home gardens are blooming, trees are showing signs of green and farmers are heading into their fields to prepare them for planting, that doesn't mean the outlook is all rosy. There could be frost at any time, and there is a higher-than-normal risk of severe weather, including tornadoes and thunderstorms, Niyogi cautions in the State Climate Office's Spring 2012 Outlook.

But that doesn't mean the outlook is all rosy, although flowers in home gardens are blooming, trees are turning green and some farmers already are in their fields planting corn - and we're still in March. There could be frost at any time, and there is a higher-than-normal risk of severe weather, including tornadoes and thunderstorms.

While above-normal temperatures should continue through the next three months and the current drier trend persist at least through early spring, precipitation is expected to return to normal in May and June, according to the outlook.

The summerlike weather is largely the result of a "positive Arctic Oscillation," a pattern that locked cold air in Canada rather than moving it to Indiana. In addition, La Niña’s typical pattern of sending Indiana wetter and cooler weather well into the spring already is ending; it went into June last year, delaying farmers from planting crops for many weeks.

The Arctic Oscillation has been more of a major player throughout the winter and now, said associate climatologist Ken Scheeringa. "AO dominated La Niña and gave us the opposite effect of year ago," he said.

As of March 27, the state average temperature for the month was 54.2 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly 15 degrees above normal and so far the warmest March on record in Indiana since 1895.

The weather has been so good that some farmers hit the fields in early March to prepare them for planting. Some have even planted their corn already, a risky venture since it typically is not planted until mid-April when there is less threat of a destructive freeze. Farmers with some types of crop insurance would lose the replanting portion of the coverage if they planted before April 6, meaning if the crop were damaged and needed replanting, insurance would not cover the cost.

Farmers planting now also are, in effect, extending their growing season by a month, running the additional risk of having to contend with more weeds than normal later in the season.

Such sudden drops in temperature are more related to weather conditions on a particular day even amid an overall trend of warmer weather, Scheeringa said.

"A freeze event can be related as more of a snapshot of what’s happening on a specific day than to a longer trend," he said. "It is quite unpredictable."

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