Lack of La Niña in summer 2016 will save Midwest crops

by Drew Lerner
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Click to enlarge graphic   Delaying the onset of La Niña takes some of the extreme out of the expected weather.

KANSAS CITY — El Niño has not weakened as quickly as some were suggesting, and the potential for La Niña to evolve during the coming growing season is not impossible, but will be a more difficult accomplishment the longer this El Niño event takes to weaken and dissipate. There is still plenty of time for a quick and sudden change, but World Weather, Inc. does not believe the ocean will have the capability of moving to La Niña before late in the third quarter and more likely in the fourth quarter of this calendar year.

Delaying the onset of La Niña takes some of the extreme out of the expected weather. La Niña events tend to make a large part of the U.S. crop region east of the Rocky Mountains a little warmer and somewhat drier biased than in other years. However, La Niña does not act independently of other weather features, and because it must interact with other prevailing weather patterns, each La Niña is a little different than those that precede it.

The best way to look at La Niña is to find the prevailing weather pattern for the coming growing season and then take moisture away from that pattern while allowing warmer temperatures and see what that does to the anomalies. For 2016 the prevailing pattern calls for a wet and cool spring season across the lower Midwest, Delta, southeastern states and a part of the central Plains. The wet and cool bias may delay planting and that is very important to pay attention to from a production perspective. Lengthy delays in planting may hurt production potentials later in the year, especially if the cool, wet, spring is followed by a hot, dry, summer.

Some forecasters are predicting 1983 style of weather extremes in 2016. That year was a textbook example of how too much rain and cool weather in the spring may harm production if it is followed by hot and dry weather. Delayed planting and short root systems early in the growing season of 1983 (another year in which strong El Niño conditions existed early in the year just like today) was followed by a bout of hot, dry, weather from mid- to late-summer. The transition from one extreme to the other was dramatic and affected crops in a major way resulting in some significant production cuts.

This year seems to be paralleling 1983 rather closely — at least for right now — and that has some forecasters and producers very concerned about crop weather later in the year. While 1983 was a significant El Niño event year that did not transition into La Niña until the following year, the very wet and cool spring and hot, dry, summer was devastating to crops. Because of the similarities between this year and 1983, some forecasters are beating their chests pretty hard suggesting drought and other negative issues will impact the U.S. seriously hurting production.

World Weather, Inc. takes its 37 years of experience and reminds its readers and subscribers that weather history never repeats itself exactly. None of the years of extreme weather recorded in the past have ever been repeated based on similar weather patterns. There have been some similar anomalies, but the extremes are never replicated. Because of that statement it is imperative that we view 1983 as an extreme year and one that will not recur in 2016. The odds are good that some form of similar weather may evolve, but if we do not see La Niña during the summer season, there will not be much reason to remove high volumes of moisture and intensify summer temperatures to the point of causing weather to become as extreme as it was in 1983.

Because of the statement about the unlikely occurrence of La Niña in 2016, the U.S. forecast largely will be dominated by a repeating pattern aloft that will control storm movement and temperatures over the growing season. El Niño will continue to influence the late winter and early spring because it is still a significant event, and it will take a while for its influence on world weather to abate. Because of El Niño’s ongoing presence the parallel to 1983 likely will continue for a while longer, and that does raise the potential for returning wet weather in the spring with a cooler-than-usual bias in temperatures, especially in the southern states. Delays in spring planting are going to be possible because it is not only like the 1983 El Niño event, but like the 1998 event that also was a strong event in the first quarter of that year — similar to today.

The wetter and cooler spring bias suggests delays in planting, and that may raise worry in the commodity futures world about summer production. The worry will be fueled by the delays in planting, the knowledge that lower yields often come in years that planting is delayed, and (most importantly) because of the drought mongers screaming loudly that the U.S. crops will be a disaster as drought evolves in the summer. Prepare for a strong rise in futures market prices as these factors come together. While enjoying the ride up on adverse and potentially adverse weather, be planning your exit strategy because at some point in the summer folks are going to look back and decide that conditions are not as bad as perceived, and there likely will be a reversal in futures trading. This forecast comes from years of watching the market, but it is important to note that World Weather, Inc. and all of its staff are forbidden to trade commodity futures so that we may provide an unbiased opinion for the outlook.

In the meantime, what does our summer weather trend suggest for 2016? Ignoring El Niño and La Niña for a while, the weather cycle for this summer (June through August) will be biased for a ridge of high pressure to evolve over the Great Plains and extend weakly into Canada’s Prairies. This advertised ridge of high pressure is not expected to be very strong in the northern Plains or Canada, and its weakness likely will allow showers and thunderstorms to evolve and prevail in those areas relatively frequently during the height of the summer season. The rain in the northern Plains and Canada will prove supportive of improving crop and field conditions after a drier biased late winter and spring.

Alberta, Montana and some neighboring areas in western Saskatchewan are carrying some significant moisture deficits from last summer. The combination of ongoing dry and warm biases this spring and the deficits lingering from last summer will not get those crop areas off to a very good start this summer, but the weak ridge of high pressure in the summer should bring some timely moisture to the region.

In the meantime, the strongest part of the expected ridge will be in the southern Plains. Temperatures in Texas, Oklahoma, parts of Kansas and into a part of the Delta will be warmer, than usual during the summer months and precipitation will be below average. The greatest moisture deficits will be in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Another area of drier biased weather will evolve in the middle and southern Atlantic Coast states, but temperatures in those areas may be milder than usual during summer and that will translate into soil moisture conservation. Lower drying rates will slow down the deterioration in crop and field conditions, which may not prevent a production struggle, but it should prevent weather extremes like those of 1983 from repeating.

The warmest and driest anomalies expected n U.S. crop areas this summer will be in the southern Plains and southwestern Corn Belt leaving the heart of the Midwest in relatively favorable condition. If La Niña suddenly evolves this summer, the dryness in the southern states would be exacerbated and expanded to the north along with the heat and a serious threat to production might evolve. Without La Niña (as we expect) the situation will not be the best environment for crops, but it will not be the disaster that some alarmists want us to fear. The next few weeks will be important to monitor and make sure World Weather, Inc. is correct about no La Niña during the summer.


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