Pacific Northwest farmers aren’t likely to see more precipitation this fall and winter, a Washington State University weather expert says.
Abnormally high temperatures and dry conditions are expected to linger, WSU AgWeatherNet meteorologist Nic Loyd said.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good in terms of the expected snowpack situation for the Cascades,” Loyd said. “That will have an impact on water supplies for 2016.”
Loyd blames a shift in the global atmospheric circulation, with a unusually warm ridge of high pressure over the region, coming from the equator instead of the colder regions. The Northwest has been isolated in the weather anomaly from the rest of the U.S., he said.
Colder periods during the winter when snow falls in the mountains are likely, he said, but long-term weather forecasts and short-term climate models suggest a strong and strengthening El Nino, which typically means a dry winter and spring in the Northwest.
It could be another “difficult” water year through next summer, Loyd said.
“Hopefully not, I can’t imagine it would be as unusual as the last year or so, when we had a record-low snowpack followed by a record warm summer, so you have a very unfortunate combination of very low supply followed by very high demand,” he said.
Loyd expects a turnaround to begin in mid-2016.
“Historically, after strong El Nino events, that situation tends to shift away towards neutral or maybe even La Nina conditions the following winter,” he said. “It doesn’t always happen, but history would definitely be on our side.”
WSU’s fall forecast was met with a mixed response from two of the state’s largest commodity groups.
“We hope they’re wrong,” said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.
Higher temperatures increased protein in wheat, above levels desired by some key overseas customers, and reduced the wheat crop.
This was the second dry year in a row, Squires said.
“Instead of spring rains, we had triple-digit temperatures,” he said. “We’re hoping maybe this third year has a little more moisture to offer.”
Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said a warmer fall would help apple farmers in the short-term. It provides the opportunity to harvest fruit thoroughly and in an orderly manner, he said.
But a long-term lack of water and snowfall creates problems for farmers using irrigation, such as in the Yakima Valley’s Roza Irrigation District.
“Growers had to try to do more with less,” Fryhover said. “We can figure out ways to be more efficient, but Mother Nature needs to help us a little bit.”
Squires hopes farmers have seen the worst of the drought.
“Usually we haven’t had three really high-protein years in a row,” he said. “So we’re banking that we’re not going to have a third one.”