More favorable weather ahead

Published on: Feb 7, 2014

More favorable weather aheadSHIFTING weather patterns worldwide as a result of a developing El Nino event should improve moisture conditions in most of the U.S., with the exception of the West Coast, according to Creighton University professor emeritus Dr. Art Douglas.

Since the last El Nino in early 2010, severe drought has migrated across the central and western U.S., but as the equator and the Baja peninsula slowly warmed, moisture levels improved in Texas and the Midwest, while the main area of drought moved west.

California is facing its third year of drought, while most of the surrounding area has been unusually dry for most of the last decade, which has placed a tremendous strain on the region's agriculture sector and is forcing farmers and ranchers to make difficult decisions.

The first national water forecast by the National Water & Climate Center — part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — projected a limited water supply west of the Continental Divide.

NRCS hydrologist Tom Perkins said, "Right now, the West Coast is all red," as the Map shows. "Early indications are that it will be very dry in the western part of the West but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry."

Douglas, in his weather outlook presentation to the CattleFax seminar during the Cattle Industry Convention & Trade Show last week, concurred with the climate center's forecast.

At the start of 2014, the weather cycle will repeat the pattern of 2008 and 2009, bringing promising growing conditions for the Corn Belt.

The Midwest should see warmer-than-normal temperatures in early spring, which is welcome news to farmers and ranchers who have been battling extreme cold and winter storm events. The warmer spring will allow growers to get an early start on fieldwork.

Warming ocean temperatures will bring a strong El Nino in the summer, which will set up ideal growing conditions for the Midwest with a warmer-than-normal June and above-normal moisture, but it will turn cooler in late summer as El Nino's effects increase, according to Douglas.

"The warming in the Pacific Ocean will help fuel a relatively wet upcoming 2014 and 2015," he said.

Overall, Douglas forecasted improvements in most of the U.S. this summer, especially in the Corn Belt, and also more rainfall in drought-plagued areas of the West.

El Nino will also heavily affect the rest of world. South America should see a reversal in rainfall patterns. Drought-stricken Argentina should see some relief, while the crop-growing areas of Brazil will see drier-than-normal conditions.

However, Douglas warned, "Do not expect a good crop coming out of South America — at least a summer crop."

Historically, Australia experiences severe drought during El Nino. Currently, the vegetative index is showing that parts of Australia already are under drought conditions, which means Australia will start El Nino already thirsting for moisture. This could negatively influence the country's agriculture sector, especially animal agriculture.

Volume:86 Issue:06