Trend this summer is for wet, cool weather
for The Fence Post
Eager to plow through the planting season, farmers and ranchers in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states are anxiously eyeing the newly-released summer climate outlook issued by the Climate Prediction Center on May 16.
El Nino produced abundant snowpack in the Rockies, as well as a frigid, icy late winter and a chilly, wet early spring on the Plains.
Now, El Nino’s wetter than normal impact is sticking around for at least, several more months.
“Yes we do still have El Nino. This has allowed additional storm systems to bring heavy rains to the central and southern Plains over the past month including Kansas. Looking ahead at the next 10-14 days (throughout May) unfortunately we see a similar pattern developing which includes a large storm system across the western U.S. with a ridge of high pressure across the Southeast U.S. This pattern will bring the Plains more wet and stormy weather through the rest of May, for starters,” said Chad Omitt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kan.
“Given how wet we are in Kansas, additional heavy rains will cause more flooding not to mention this is our peak for severe weather in Kansas with the second half of May and first half of June the most active for tornadoes,” Omitt said.
Particularly intriguing is that El Nino is expected to stick around through June, July and August and even beyond.
“There’s a 70 percent likelihood that El Nino will continue through the summer of 2019,” said Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist in the Office of the Chief Economist/World Agricultural Outlook Board in Washington, D.C. El Nino also has a 55 to 60 percent chance of continuing through the fall of 2019, according to the latest El Nino advisory.
Given expectations for El Niño continuing through the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2019, Rippey noted there’s unusually high confidence in the June through August forecast.
“For the Great Plains, there is a distinct tilt in the odds toward cool, wet conditions during the summer, and the greatest likelihood of wet weather covers much of Wyoming, northern Colorado, and western Nebraska. However, a much broader area stretching from the Intermountain West eastward across the Rockies, Plains, Ohio Valley, and mid-Atlantic can expect a wetter-than-normal summer,” Rippey said. At the same time, cooler-than-normal summer conditions are expected across large sections of the Plains and upper Midwest.
Given the antecedent wetness and late planting that has affected so many areas of the country, there are several concerns. “No 1, flooding could persist in some areas of the Plains and Midwest for much of the summer, as it did in 1993. No. 2, late planting and a cool, wet summer could lead to crop developmental delays, such as what happened in 2009. This is not necessarily a concern, but could expose some crops to potential autumn freeze damage, if such a freeze should occur. No. 3, late-planted and late-maturing crops may require extra time to dry down in the field (or require mechanical drying), which could push the harvest season into the winter months and lead to crop-quality issues,” Rippey said.
On the bright side, the nation’s rangeland and pastures are in really good shape — currently rated 63 percent good to excellent, per USDA/NASS. “For this time of year, comparable or higher U.S. rangeland and pasture ratings were observed only in 1998, 1999 and 2010, based on USDA/NASS records over the last 25 years,” Rippey said.
There’s at least hopeful news in the CPC’s summer outlook for southeast and south central Colorado, including Colorado’s eastern plains, where the month of June features below normal temperatures. For the rest of the state, above normal precipitation is forecast for June.
Then, regarding the entire summer, near normal temperatures are expected for the eastern plains. The entire state of Colorado is forecast to have above normal precipitation during the three-month summer period.
“We’ll definitely welcome above normal precipitation if it works out that way. The San Luis Valley was the greenest I’ve ever seen it since I’ve been here, with the snowmelt runoff, and decent amount of precipitation at Alamosa. So, farmers, and ag producers in the San Luis Valley are doing well, so far,” said Meteorologist-In-Charge Jennifer Stark at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo.
Last summer, southwest Colorado was in a pretty significant drought. But this year, there’s virtually no drought indicated. “There is an area of abnormally dry in a small part of our area,” said Stark, who credits several factors for the drought relief. “We’ve had really good mountain snow statewide, and for us, it recharges the reservoirs and allows for irrigation in the summer and also helps with fire concerns by keeping soils more moist.” The NWS-Pueblo’s coverage area includes: El Paso County and Teller and Lake counties to Mineral County and to the New Mexico border, but is all in Colorado.
Wyoming is expecting above normal precipitation for the near-term as well as at the seasonal period, with the odds being in the 40 to 50 percent range for the three summer months. Temperature odds are less certain, although the next few weeks are leaning toward being below normal, especially in the short term.
“As we get out to looking at June, the signal has no (specific) significance either way for Wyoming. The three-month outlook is similar, although we start to see greater chances for above-normal temperatures in the western third of the state,” said Tony Bergantino, deputy director of the Water Resources Data System at the Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming CoCoRaHS state coordinator.
“Just like with the one-month outlook, the eastern boundary of the uncertainty is pretty much the same as the eastern border of Wyoming, with odds leaning slightly toward below-normal temperatures going into Nebraska and South Dakota,” Bergantino said. “We are still in El Nino conditions and the chances are good that these conditions will continue into summer and are better than 50 percent that they will continue, even into the fall.”
The main takeaway, he said, would be the good chances for above normal precipitation to lay over Wyoming throughout the summer. Chances for above-normal temperatures increase into the mid- and later-summer months.
Many locations, particularly in the eastern third of Kansas, have seen more than the total normal rainfall for May in the first half of the month. The outlook for June calls for continuation of the wet pattern with an increased chance of wetter than normal conditions across Kansas.
“The signal is strongest in the western third, and weakest in the east. The temperature outlook favors a cooler than normal pattern across the entire central Plains. A normal or slightly below normal precipitation pattern for June would be favorable in the eastern divisions, where saturated soils continue to present problems,” said Mary Knapp, assistant state climatologist, located at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Cool temperatures would slow the normal drying pattern. “While cooler temperatures would favor grain fill in the fall planted crops, it would also increase disease pressure,” Knapp said.
Kansas’ temperature outlook continues to favor cooler than normal temperatures across the state. “However, this doesn’t indicate how those temperatures might be distributed. An untimely period of warm temperatures at flowering/pollination could still create problems. An additional issue is that root development on spring seeded crops is likely to be compromised by the cool, wet soils that have dominated the spring,” Knapp said She said this poor root development would make crops more vulnerable to a relatively short dry period.
In general, conditions favor cooler than normal temperatures across Nebraska through the summer. Precipitation is expected to be above normal, with western Nebraska having the greatest odds of above normal precipitation.
Although weak El Nino conditions are expected to continue through the summer, however, one of the primary drivers for the cooler and wetter outlook was soil moisture.
“The anomalously wet soil conditions across the northern and central Plains and the Mississippi Valley are expected to contribute significantly to the cooler conditions across the Plains, including Nebraska. The impacts of the soil moisture on temperatures is most likely in the first part of the summer (June), which could slow early season crop development. After the cooler than normal start, average temperatures are expected to trend more toward normal in July and August,” said Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist for NWS in Hastings, Neb.
“The CPC one and three month outlooks are not too surprising. They are showing increased odds for cooler and wetter than normal for the middle part of the country. This is likely heavily based on current conditions/pattern, enhanced regional soil moisture, and a chance for El Nino to last this summer,” said Tyler Williams, ag climate and weather Extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He believes that the three-month outlook is very similar to the June outlook.
“For row crop producers, this typically is relatively positive, but with the current situation with delayed planting and field work, this pattern is probably not ideal in the short-term. Here in Nebraska, we are in a better situation than areas to the east when it comes to planting progress, however, there are some areas who haven’t missed a rain. I think we will really start to see some nutrient deficiency issues this summer due to the lack of adequate fertilizer applied and the excess moisture. Weeds will also be an issue, as herbicide plans with residuals change with planting delays or switching crops,” Williams said.
As long as temperatures aren’t too cool during the “meat” of the summer, the reduced risk of warm/dry is a positive for dryland producers, he said. “The irrigated folks in Nebraska typically get their highest yields in warm/dry years, so there is a tradeoff between irrigation costs and yield. This set-up, however, is often positive for rangeland and forage production for this region. With very little drought in the central Plains, this suggests a lower risk for drought this summer, and that is always a good sign for cow-calf producers.”
Williams said, the current grass growth is slow, but should catch up this week, since there is decent soil moisture. ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at email@example.com.