July 18, 2016
by Historical Climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss & Climatological Analyst James J. Garriss
The warm El Niño ended in mid-May. For about a month we felt the after effect ‒ heavy storms, rains and floods. Now, however, we are heading towards the opposite tropical weather pattern, La Niña, at rocket speed. In the second week of July, we are only one-tenth of a degree from officially having La Niña conditions.
El Niño is when the Tropical Pacific is hotter than normal while La Niña is when the same area is cooler. As the Earth rotates, weather in the tropics is spun out towards the poles. In the case of La Niña, it creates drier US weather and cooler winters.
We are already seeing the drying. Since El Niño ended, the continental US has seen dry and drought areas increase by 13 percent. If, as most experts have been warning, the La Niña conditions start in late summer, that would create a drier, hotter August and September, with some critical areas in the Midwest experiencing a high risk of drought.
The odds are currently very high that La Niña conditions and weather will start in late summer. It may not be an official La Niña event since, scientifically these cool conditions have to linger for 7 months in a row, so you can have La Niña conditions creating drought for six months and still not have experts declaring an official La Niña event. Meanwhile, your grass dies and you have to irrigate the crops.
Here’s the good news. Even though we are seeing more dry weather, the recent El Niño left a lot of subsoil moisture and full reservoirs. The crops planted in the Midwest, particularly those planted early have had a chance to grow hearty root systems. Moreover, with the La Niña scheduled for late summer, most of the corn crop will be able to get through the crucial silking period, leaving soybeans (and pastures) most affected by the dry weather.
In other words, the La Niña will cause problems, but the watery parting gifts from the late El Niño may ease the sting. -TBB
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