So just how wacky will weather be this year? Art Douglas, a Creighton University weather expert, prognosticates a weather pattern similar to the 1940s and 1950s. His forecast points to a moderate-to-strong La Niña through this spring.
“With cold water persisting for the next four months, moisture conditions should continue to improve in Australia and northern Brazil, but the La Niña will favor persistent drought in Argentina and the Southeastern U.S.,” he says.
However, “persistent drought in the Southeast is likely to moderate by the summer as La Niña gradually weakens and tropical storm activity brings coastal rains,” Douglas says. He sees a near-normal summer throughout much of the Corn Belt, which, given good soil moisture conditions from this fall and winter, is positive for crop yields.
Iowa State University (ISU) Extension Climatologist Elwynn Taylor says La Niña may vanish as quickly as it came. “Stay tuned until the last day of April,” he says, when we will know for sure. If we do remain in a La Niña, an ISU study on managing weather and crop risk indicates that growers should forward sell only 8% of their crop before planting, and face a 70% chance of below-trendline yields, Taylor says. He conducted the study jointly with ISU Ag Economist and Professor Emeritus Bob Wisner.
The year ahead shows many signs of suffering from a drought similar to that of 1988, Taylor says. “In 50 years of records, only one of them looks like the weather pattern that we are in, and that is much like 1987 into early 1988,” he says of today's La Niña weather pattern, and the Southern Oscillation Index.
What can growers do to prepare? “Establish strong root systems on your crop and protect it from insect and weed pressure. If you are inclined to buy insurance, buy it,” Taylor says.
The main center of heat and dryness this summer is forecast for the Northwest third of the nation, he says, suggesting an abrupt change from a cool and wet spring to a hot and dry summer.
Heading from winter into spring, Douglas forecasts warmer-than-normal temperatures for the Southwest and eastern half of the nation. “Only the Northwest quarter of the country is expected to be cooler than normal,” he says.