El Niño, Mild Winter Chances Slip Again

November 7th, 2014


Category: Grains, Weather

weather450x299(Agriculture.com) – Mother Nature’s been flirting with El Niño for months now, with forecasters cautiously calling for the system’s return that would foreshadow a milder winter in the Midwest.

But, the likelihood of the southern oscillation index (SOI) transitioning from neutral to an El Niño-tilted pattern continues to dwindle. What will that mean for this winter?

For months, the SOI has been neutral with some movement toward El Niño, the weather phenomenon that’s characterized by warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, more moisture in the southern U.S. and mild winter weather in the central part of the country. Winter forecasts earlier this year all hinged mainly on the SOI and how much it moved toward ENSO, or El Niño Southern Oscillation. In the last few months, forecasters’ crystal ball has been cloudy as SOI has remained neutral. That’s now starting to change.

“The CPC/IRI (Climate Prediction Center/International Research Institute) ENSO forecast has dropped the likelihood of El Niño again, to 58%, despite the presence of ‘borderline’ El Niño conditions (i.e. warmer equatorial Pacific sea surface temperature, and some reduction in rain over Indonesia). El Niño is still expected, but with less confidence.” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research scientist Emily Becker. “In one decade, the pattern may be weak El Niño events followed by weak La Niña events every other year, and then the next decade the pattern may be just a handful of strong, irregularly spaced events. These decadal shifts are largely not predictable.”

This means the chances of a “generally mild” winter in the Midwest have fallen slightly. How does this compare to the latest projections heading into the early weeks of winter? The long-term outlook shows greater likelihood of cooler-than-normal seasonal temperatures the nation’s center and southeast, says Don Keeney, MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist. Moisture expectations are still on the low side in the coming month.

“Our latest 16- to 30-day temperature outlook has trended cooler across the Midwest, Delta, Southeast, and Plains. The cool pattern across the Midwest, Delta, and Plains will continue to push wheat there into dormancy. The precipitation forecast has trended drier across the Plains, western Midwest, and northern Delta,” Keeney says. “This will allow moisture supplies to decline in those areas, although moisture needs of the wheat will continue to decline as the crop pushes into dormancy. Also, the drier pattern in the western Midwest will favor any remaining corn and soybean harvesting.”

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