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Longtime Peoria meteorologist Mike McClellan offers up his 2023 forecast for farmers and gardeners

Mike McClellan of the Mobile Weather Team is pictured speaking to farmers in the Peoria County Farm Bureau auditorium on February 28.
Tim Alexander
Mike McClellan of the Mobile Weather Team is pictured speaking to farmers in the Peoria County Farm Bureau auditorium on February 28.

Longtime Peoria-area meteorologist Mike McClellan recently came to the Peoria County Farm Bureau building to talk to local growers about one of their favorite topics: the weather.

McClellan, a former WMBD-TV meteorologist, now works as a member of the Mobile Weather Team. He spoke for a little over an hour to the 50 or so farmers in attendance at the meeting, offering a recap of 2022 weather highlights and his projections for the 2023 planting and harvest seasons.

According to McClellan, this summer’s weather could be similar to the near-perfect late season growing conditions of 2022 as the Midwest transitions into a “neutral” meteorological state in between the current winter La Nina and expected late summer El Nino weather systems.

Spring planting: cool and moist

Conditions during the spring planting season should provide cool, moist soils for most central Illinois farmers and gardeners, McClellan said.

“In March I think we’ll be above normal precipitation-wise and below normal temperature-wise. This will mean we will get ample moisture back in the soil and be ready for that planting season,” McClellan projected. “I think we’re going to see adequate moisture in March and April and that should wipe out any kind of a drought issue we’ve had this winter season. So I’m thinking that we stay pretty cloudy and gloomy during the month of April, which will keep us a little below average temperature-wise. We should have near normal precipitation if not a little below normal, which would be good planting weather.”

“Neutral” summer good for growing

Even with crops planted in a timely manner into grounds with ample soil moisture, a too-hot, too-dry summer can bake a cash crop or a home garden. However, June weather in central Illinois should arrive with plenty of storm systems rolling through, according to the Mobile Weather Team’s projections.

“This will help get that crop back up out of the ground (and) get it sturdy,” said McClellan. “Based on (a number of current weather conditions and patterns) I’m thinking July might be very stable, very stagnant, very cloudy and a little bit on the dry side, but cool. I don’t think that will hurt us much.

“And as we go into August that stagnant pattern shifts back into a more active pattern, and we’ll get the necessary rains and heat back. I think it could be a pretty good year for us in the Corn Belt.”

Harvest weather could be favorable, unless…

All of the optimism for a favorable planting season and conducive growing season could be dashed by any number of weather wild cards, however.

“If the dryness that I’m anticipating in July extends into August, then even if it’s cool it could still be an issue. Anytime we have extended dry periods without any significant rain it can be a problem, but especially in the growing season,” McClellan said. “But overall, I’d say we look to be in pretty good shape.”

So, when should I plant my garden?

The McClellan family maintains a large vegetable garden at their home in Washington, Illinois, so the veteran meteorologist is especially attuned to optimal planting dates. Mike cautions gardeners and farmers that there is a “very good” chance of a frost in late April 2023.

“Getting too excited about getting those tomato plants in is likely going to be very dangerous,” he said. “I’m one who loves to be on the forefront of that, but this year I think I’m going to back off and hang on.”

Farmers will be looking to get their soybeans in the ground as early as possible. According to McClellan, there should be plenty of windows of opportunity available to get tractors into the fields during late March and early April.

Another “Dust Bowl” Coming?

In addition, McClellan offered his opinion on a rumored Dust Bowl redux that could be hitting western states as early as 2025. What is behind the rumor, and could a new version of the Dust Bowl-- which began with severe drought in the mid-1930s and continued for a decade-- reach into the Ohio Valley and the Midwest?

“There is a lot of speculation based on the Gleissberg Solar Cycle that occurs every 70 to 100 years and is associated with drought. If you combine that with what we call the Benner Cycle, which is basically every 89 years and is a tree ring prognosis which indicates and dates drought conditions)...you are looking at 2024-2025 for another drought in the western part of the country,” McClellan said.

“You just don’t know-- there is some science behind it, but will it happen? I just can’t say one way or the other (but) the potential is there. There are so many things that would have to come into play to get that kind of drought in the Midwest. I don’t see that happening at this point for 2024-25, but I certainly won’t say it couldn’t happen,” he said.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.