ANALYSIS – An El Nino weather event is forecast to develop which should create ideal growing crop conditions in the US, but drier weather is expected in Brazil, Australia, India and China, writes Sarah Mikesell, 5m senior editor.
“Warm water is pooling off the coast of Washington and Oregon; water is running about 2-3°C above normal and that’s the set-up for El Nino,” said Dr Art Douglas, Professor Emeritus at Creighton University, speaking at the National Cattlemen’s Association meeting during the CattleFax session in Nashville, Tennessee, US.
“In South America, you can see warm water developing off the coast of Peru and Ecuador. This is the first stage of El Nino developing across the equator,” Dr Douglas said.
Both the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) climate models forecast moderate El Nino conditions by mid-summer, according to Dr. Douglas.
This is an early developing El Nino that is likely to become stronger by the fall and winter 2014. Ocean temperatures around the world are starting to take on El Nino-like characteristics that will have broad scale impacts on world weather patterns.
Since the demise of the last El Nino in early 2010, severe drought conditions migrated across the central and western US. The movement of this drought has been in response to fluctuating La Nina (cold) conditions along the equator.
Drought has become more frequent in the US since the central North Pacific entered a warm phase in 1998 and the North Atlantic entered a broad warm phase in 1995.
A cold equatorial Pacific (La Nina) intensified the 2011 drought in Texas by diminishing the subtropical jet and favoring a drought high in the Southern Plains.
In 2012, the Plains and Midwest droughts were tied to broad cooling from Baja to Hawaii. This cooling favored the formation of strong drought high pressures in the Pacific and the central US.
This past summer the equator and Baja slowly warmed and moisture improved in Texas and the Midwest, while the main area of drought moved into the West. With the developing El Nino this year, the main area of drought will be pushed in the Pacific Northwest by fall.
Developing El Ninos favor warming across much of the US by the end of winter and into spring. Moisture is expected to improve from east Texas north into the Midwest, with above normal rainfall likely through the upper Midwest. Planting in the western Corn Belt could be delayed due to excess moisture, while temperatures in the Midwest should remain warmer than normal through spring.
In the drought-stricken West, precipitation is expected to slowly increase to normal levels by mid-February and reach above-normal levels in March, After a warm mid-winter, temperatures in the West will drop to below-normal levels March through May.
“Overall, an ideal forecast for improved moisture and warmer temperatures which should help folks get out and plant early,” he said.
Summer calls for fairly ideal crop weather across the Midwest, with the only threat of drier weather being in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. Temperatures are likely to start warmer than normal in the Midwest and cool by late summer as El Nino effects increase.
The Southwest monsoon typically starts earlier than normal with an El Nino, but expect rainfall to decrease as a late summer drought reaches this region and Mexico. The El Nino should suppress Atlantic hurricane activity while east Pacific hurricane activity should increase off Baja.
With a developing El Nino expect drier weather for the next six months in Brazil, Australia and India. Argentina should see slow improvement in moisture conditions as the region approaches winter.
“Australia generally has a really severe drought during an El Nino,” he said. “If we go into their winter wheat area July through September, it’s also quite dry. Current vegetation shows that the Eastern portion of Australia is under very severe drought – in fact, worse drought that what they were under last year. So Australia is not going to come into an El Nino in a good situation.”
Forecasts for Asia indicate that from February to March. India and southern Asia will be wetter than normal but as you get into early May, this indicates that they’ll get some early rains throughout India and portions of China.
“But more importantly, as you go into July to September, El Nino forecasts drought for most of India and a good portion of China. So don’t expect good growing conditions as you go into the summer season – we are likely to have major drought problems in in west central India and the north China plains,” he said.
India has had ideal winter wheat conditions and will continue to but as we go into summer it is likely to turn dry.
Dr Douglas closed with a graphic indicating that Arctic ice has stabilised and Antarctica ice is increasing.
“These are long term trends. The Arctic has stabilised over the last 10 years and the Antarctica is actually increasing it’s amount of ice. The problem is that increasing carbon dioxide amounts could not allow you to have this graph. So I don’t think we need to worry about global warming as being a fact,” Dr Douglas said.
Obviously, this is one indicator of global warming but the farmers and ranchers attending were fired up by this statement.