Forecast: Warm, wet spring ahead

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Weatherman Art Douglas predicts precipitation levels to increase to normal levels or above for the spring during his forecast at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

SPOKANE — Precipitation and temperature will increase in the spring, good news for Pacific Northwest farmers looking for much-needed moisture, says a well-known weatherman.

Art Douglas, emeritus professor of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., is a popular mainstay at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. Farmers from around the region attend each year to hear Douglas’ annual forecast.

Most areas of the Pacific Northwest are currently at 60 to 70 percent of normal precipitation at best, Douglas said.

He predicts normal to 120 percent of normal precipitation levels this spring.

“My experience with wheat in the Plains is, if you have a wet spring that’s warm, you can recover all that loss from drought you had previously in the fall and winter,” Douglas said.

Douglas expects warm weather throughout the United States this spring. It will be good for early planting, he said.

“Warming is going to occur pretty rapidly,” he said. “We’re about at the end of the cold spell right now.”

Douglas predicted the weather will shift into an El Niño pattern, which refers to unusually high sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, typically indicating dry conditions for the Pacific Northwest. But Douglas said he expects near-normal precipitation levels this year due to the impacts of warm water offshore and a trough of low atmospheric pressure.

He called for good moisture in April, May and June, turning warm and dry in July and August. Douglas expects temperatures ideal for harvest in the region.

A warm water pool in the eastern Pacific Ocean will help create moisture in the Pacific Northwest for the fall and winter, Douglas said.

However, he expects dry conditions in September and a gradual increase in moisture in October.

“Not too bad in the fall, but then as we finally get into next winter, that’s where we’re going to see the real impact of El Niño and drought in the Pacific Northwest,” Douglas said.

For farmers who like to look over their records from previous years for comparison to the forecast, he said 2014 will be similar to the years 2009, 1994, 1991, 1990, 1986, 1963 and 1957.

“It sounds like it’s going to be a normal spring, leaning toward wetter and warmer, not cooler and drier,” said Bill Reinbold, who farms north of Davenport, Wash.

If Douglas had predicted dry, hot weather, Reinbold might consider changing his crop rotations and reducing inputs. But he expects to stick to his plan, perhaps even increasing fertilizer.

“I’m not going to be cutting back at all, maybe stepping on the gas a little bit,” he said. “I can at least expect probably an average to maybe an above average crop. One rain at a certain time makes all the difference.”

Jay Hansen, a farmer in southeast Idaho, hopes for more moisture for his dryland farm.

“If he is right on his spring forecast, that’s going to be phenomenal,” he said, noting Douglas’ fall predictions are less promising for his operation. “But right now we’re concerned about spring — we get one or two storms at the right time, we’ll be in good shape.”