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Expect a dry spring, mild summer as La Nina transitions to El Nino, ‘Weatherman’ says

El Niño expect less precipitation

James Hanlon, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WashExpect less precipitation and close to average temperatures as global weather patterns shift to an El Niño warming cycle this year, a weather expert told farmers Tuesday morning during the Spokane Ag Show.

Art Douglas, “The Weatherman,” is known for his long-term forecasts given every year at the event. Many farmers in the region look forward to hearing his predictions as they plan spring crops.

Douglas, professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University in Nebraska, discussed global and regional conditions as a three-year La Niña cycle is coming to an end. When temperatures warm in the Pacific Ocean this spring, it will give rise to an El Niño.

This will make the Northwest drier than normal. “The sooner El Niño starts, the sooner it dries out in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

Douglas made his forecasts based on analog data from years in recent decades that transitioned from La Niña to El Niño.

Colder weather is likely to continue across the continental U.S. from now through April, while El Niño develops on the equator, he said. Then “a big switch” will take place in May when the continent warms up and the El Niño takes over.

This cold weather is going to delay planting in the Midwest, he said. In the summer, both temperature and precipitation in the Corn Belt should be near normal, “which is excellent for growing.”

Overall, Douglas predicts “a very good crop for the United States based on this forecast,” and sees “no hint that we are going to have any kind of major drought in the U.S. affecting Midwest crops.”

Meanwhile, in the Northwest, spring planting will also be difficult for farmers as precipitation will be low.

“You may eke through with normal to slightly-below-normal precipitation in March and April,” he said, “but come May, it is going to turn drier as well as warmer.”

By summer, the El Niño should be fully in place.

June in the Northwest will be relatively cool, then temperatures will warm in July and August. Precipitation will be near normal, turning a little drier in mid-summer before monsoon moisture arrives in August.

September will return drier, which will be bad for winter wheat planting.

Finally, Douglas predicted a moderate fire season for Eastern Washington and North Idaho because of the cool June and wet August. Current drought conditions indicate strongest fire danger in central Oregon and northern Montana.

“I would say a shortened fire season,” Douglas said. “You’re still going to have fires, because you still have drought.”

James Hanlon’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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