UGA agriculture climatologist says expect dry planting conditions this spring

By: Julie Jernigan 

Georgia farmers should expect dry weather when they plant their crops this spring, but Pam Knox, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences agricultural climatologist, anticipates an active tropical storm season in the Atlantic Ocean this summer.

Growers watch the weather closely because it determines when growers schedule operations like spraying, cattle grazing and irrigation.

“Coming out of the moderate La Nina event that we had this winter, neutral conditions are expected by late spring,” Knox said. “When this happens, there seem to be drier conditions that are not good for planting.”

Once crops are planted, growers rely on rainfall or irrigation to supply water to the crops. If there is a lack of precipitation, farmers must increase the operation of their irrigation pivots.

Precipitation in Georgia was low in January and February, which caused an increase in drought conditions. But cooler weather and increased rainfall in March alleviated some of those dry conditions, Knox said.

Because it is an El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral year, the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean produces a slight periodic variation between below-normal and above-normal sea surface temperatures. This means that, during hurricane season, from June 1 through Nov. 30, there will likely be more named storms.

Last year, Hurricane Irma damaged crops across the southwestern part of Georgia. The Gulf of Mexico is very warm again this spring, which could lead to the rapid intensification of storms over that region, according to Knox.

“I suggest closely monitoring the weather forecast to see if you are in the path of a storm,” Knox said.

To deliver updated news to growers, Knox uses observations and satellites to track weather predictions. 

“I look at all of these models to simulate what we might expect, but weather is always changing,” Knox said. “You always have to be prepared.”

Knox writes a daily blog, where she details weather outlooks for the week and other crop news. For more information, visit the Climate and Agriculture in the South East blog at

(Julie Jernigan is an intern at UGA-Tifton.)