Weather front means more talk about La Niña

Weather is always on the minds of cattle producers as spring returns and La Niña may be the buzzword for the remainder of the year.

Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University, said La Niña has leveled off, but based on NOAA forecasts expects that it will return this summer.

“As we get into the fall, it looks like we’re going to have a moderate to strong La Niña event across the world,” he said. “Therefore, whatever is going on in the world right now is likely to continue for the next 12 months.”

Douglas is seeing colder sea surface temperatures, and that means one thing—drought. The coldest water now is in the central equatorial Pacific, south of Hawaii. There are companion cold-water pools from the west coast of North America toward where the La Niña event is centered.

Warm water pools favor drought-producing highs, and they’re out in the eastern portion of the continents, according to Douglas. The warmest water is in the western Pacific and that’s favoring the jet stream coming out of southeast Asia towards the north Pacific. But those storms aren’t making their way to California.

For the forecast for the U.S., Douglas uses an analog forecast method where he looks at climate indices of upper level height or pressures at 10,000 feet in the atmosphere. Then he looks at sea surface temps in the ocean.

“During January we had a very strong reach across the entire subtropical Pacific, and a very deep trough from Siberia into Alaska,” he said. “That means the jet is way farther north than normal. That subtropical jet, which expands all the way across from Japan towards California is preventing moisture from getting into the continent.”

The opposite pattern is visible in the north Atlantic, and the sea surface temps are showing La Niña across the equator and warm-water pools from Japan all the way to California.

As far as precipitation goes, Douglas expects the drought on the west coast to continue.

He cautions that past a warm March, the cold might be able to work its way down along the Canadian border in April, but by May it should turn warm again.

“So overall temperature wise—not bad for field work, early planting and quite good for feedlot operations in the Plains,” he said. “Moisture wise, as I pointed out before, there’s an indication that maybe we’re going to get some moisture from southern California into Texas in the month of March, but, boy, that’s it.”

Douglas sees a very hot summer for the Mexican border north through the Rockies and western Plains, extending all the way into the northwest Corn Belt. Likewise he expects it to be very dry all the way from the border to California and northward.

“About the only moisture to speak of for the continent is over there in the Ohio Valley, and up along the Canadian border from northeast North Dakota into Minnesota,” he said.

June will start primarily hot in the southwest and the heat moves into the midsection of the country.

“Come July, and then by August, much more of the country’s covered with hot temperatures,” Douglas said. “Precip wise the Plains through the period tend to be the area where dryness is focused, as well as the Rockies. Moisture is very scattered indicating a hit and miss type summer, which is going to cause a lot of stress with both corn and beans.”

By September things should cool off some for the midsection of the country and the heat will go back to the East Coast.

“While the cool down is probably welcome relief to the crops, the problem is when we look at the precipitation,” he said. “It stays dry if not anything it’s drier.”

Douglas suspect’s corn and soybeans could have trouble filling with the heat and lack of moisture.

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“And if we look at the western United States in September, it looks like moisture for fall grazing is really going to be inadequate,” he said. “So the drought is going to continue throughout the West.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].