La Nina is done, transitioning to El Nino brings hope for drought relief to some areas |

La Nina is done, transitioning to El Nino brings hope for drought relief to some areas

After a daunting drought that somersaulted into an unusually heavy winter snowpack in the western U.S. this past winter, now all eyes are on the summer weather forecast just released from the Climate Prediction Center, Thursday, May 18. As farmers and ranchers from the Rockies to the Plains closely monitor warmer temperatures triggering much-needed soil moisture, but also ongoing flooding from the heavy snowpack, and still some areas dealing with drought, the forecast is everything. 

Here are the specifics for Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.

The big climate story is El Nino. We are currently flipping rapidly from the La Nina (that we had earlier this year) and are in neutral conditions, but warming very rapidly and transitioning to El Nino (which is the opposite climate phenomenon to La Nina). 


“I wouldn’t not be surprised if by mid to late June, we are fully flipped to El Nino. Looking at model projections dealing with El Nino, it has the potential to be a strong event by mid fall (October to November). El Nino events typically don’t have much impact through the summer months, which are mostly driven by the monsoon, but, once we get to September, October and November, El Nino does have a stronger bias to produce wet conditions across Colorado,” said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist, National Weather Service, Pueblo, Colo.

Meanwhile for this summer in Colorado, the CPC predicts a slightly higher than average chance for warmer summer temperatures for northeast and eastern Colorado, but chances for warm temperatures go up in central Colorado, and then climb even higher into southwest Colorado for June, July and August. 


Regarding summer precipitation, much of Colorado is expecting average summer precipitation, except for southwest Colorado which is expecting slightly below-normal precipitation.

There have been vast improvements in the drought conditions across Colorado, thanks to recent rains in late April and into May and a heavy winter snowpack. 

“The only exception is Baca County, where D3-D4 remains. The area along the eastern mountains, east into the I-25 corridor has seen the largest improvements (due to the rainfall) over the past month. Green up is in full swing, with continued active weather/rainfall expected over the next couple of weeks,” Mozley said.  

As for snowmelt, it is occurring rapidly over the San Juans, north into the Sawatch Range. This snowmelt is occurring earlier in the year (May as opposed to June), with local rivers running high (below flood stage though) Mozley said. Dust from wind events this spring is helping to melt the snow.  

As for the annual monsoon, Mozley is leaning towards a late start, and possibly lackluster overall. Most of the Southwest receives more than half of its yearly rainfall during the monsoon (summer) season, which is the seasonal reversal of winds that bring moisture northward into the four corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

However, in late July (around July 23), Colorado could see more moisture.

“The Equatorial Rossby Waves move off the African coast then, and allow moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to interact with moisture from the Pacific,” Mozley said. 


Wyoming’s forecast is for a warmer than normal summer, especially the further southwest you go through the state. For starters, northern and central Wyoming are expected to be slightly warmer than normal.  However, chances for even warmer temperatures are expected for western and southern Wyoming. 

Regarding precipitation, average precipitation is expected statewide.

“The precipitation forecast doesn’t have much guidance and all of Wyoming and many surrounding areas are right in the middle in terms of above or below normal precipitation, meaning at this point it is best to go with climatology as far as what to expect,” said Tony Bergantino, director, Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming CoCoRaHS State Coordinator, Wyoming Mesonet director.

Recent precipitation has helped drought conditions especially in southeast Wyoming, where the last of the extreme drought (D3) was removed from the map in mid-May. 


“We do still have lingering severe drought (D2) in northeastern Laramie County along with the southern three-quarters of Goshen County. The nexus of Sublette, Lincoln and Teton counties also has some D2 still,” Bergantino said. He noted that snow has melted out of all but the higher elevations but there is still a fair amount of snow water equivalent in basins like the Yellowstone, Snake, Upper North Plate, Madison, Little Snake, Upper Bear, Sweetwater and Upper Green, all of which have over 10 inches of snow water equivalent left.

Being in an El Nino watch, El Nino  is expected to develop in the next few months (with over an 80% chance for the May-July period) and more than a 90% chance that it will be present into this winter. 

“El Nino has more of a winter than summer impact, often causing Wyoming to be warmer and drier in the winter with the caveat that the boundary area between impacts is not fixed, and depends upon where the jet stream and pressure areas are,” Bergantino said. There’s less of an impact from El Nino in the summer.   


The difficult news for Nebraska and Kansas is that winter wheat producers in both states and southward are wrapping up one of their toughest seasons on record. With the highest abandonment of the crop since 1917, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 32% of the U.S. winter wheat won’t be harvested, which includes over 70% of the Texas crop. 

Regarding this summer’s forecast, while the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s outlook suggests most of the central Plains will have equal chances of having either above, below or near-normal temperatures and precipitation, there are signs for improvement of the drought this summer.

“Parts of the region have already experienced significant welcome rainfall, and while above normal precipitation isn’t favored, a more steady stream of rainfall is expected through the summer to at least improve drought conditions for most of Nebraska and Kansas, thanks in part because of the transition away from La Nina conditions to El Nino over the course of the summer,” said Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service in Hastings, Neb. It will still take several inches of above normal precipitation across drought-stricken areas to provide relief, but at least the trend is going in a better direction in 2023, Moritz added.

Until then, most Nebraskans will anticipate normal (typical summer) variability in both temperatures and precipitation in June, July and August.

The likely impacts of the rapidly developing El Nino conditions are expected to show up this fall and winter of 2023-24 with a strong probability of warmer than normal conditions across the central Plains and at least normal amounts of precipitation and potentially more snowfall in some areas.


With anticipated record abandonment of the Kansas wheat due to drought conditions, producers are heavily weighing summer weather predictions in the state. Most wheat is short and already headed out with the only exception being the northwest where it was further behind and may have caught some timely rain in mid-May. Surface water supplies are low with many folks having to haul water for cattle.

In the near short-term for June, the Climate Prediction Center slightly favors above-normal precipitation for the western half of Kansas.

“With June being one of the wettest months of the year, this is favorable for at least drought mitigation and potentially some localized improvement. This is a result of a fairly active (climate pattern) Madden Julian Oscillation overcoming the current overall ENSO neutral conditions dominating the global pattern,” said Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Kansas State University meteorologist and Kansas Mesonet manager.

Otherwise, for June, July and August, there is less of a signal towards an overall trend in moisture with equal chances of having: at/or below/or above normal moisture for most of Kansas. There is a slight favor to above normal moisture along the Missouri border during this period. Temperature-wise, there is a less dominant signal with the impacts of El Nino a bit uncertain.

“El Nino can imply increased potential for moisture and cooler temperatures during the summer months in Kansas. However, the signal is not guaranteed with impacts more prominent in the winter months,” Redmond said. 

Additionally, other patterns such as the Madden Julian Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation will remain prominent drivers of the North American pattern going forward, Redmond said, until El Nino becomes the more solid forecast tool.

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