Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2011 11:00 AM
Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
Weather expert Art Douglas answers a question for audience member Carole Landt, of Reardan, Wash., following his presentation during the main session of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum the morning of Feb. 1.
Dry weather on horizon for 2012 and 2013
SPOKANE, Wash. -- An El Niño and its accompanying dry weather are headed for the West Coast, but not until next year, forecaster Art Douglas says. In the meantime, much of the West will have a cool spring and summer with average rainfall.
Douglas said trying to forecast El Niño patterns is difficult, but it's likely the pattern will develop during the spring of 2012 and last into 2013.
"If there's going to be a drought situation, it's the 2012 to 2013 timeframe we need to worry about -- a dry fall followed by a dry winter," Douglas said.
With an El Niño, the jetstream over the Pacific Ocean becomes stronger than average and shifts toward the equator, increasing a tendency for dryness across the northern and western states and for storms across the southern states.
The weather consultant and professor emeritus at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., delivered his forecast Feb. 1 during the main session of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.
The West Coast has been experiencing a La Niña condition, which has supplied much of the West with near-record levels of precipitation this winter.
Douglas called for a cold February in the West and northern Plains, with a warm-up in the Southeast. The Pacific Northwest will be cold with normal precipitation.
Toward the spring and summer, the Pacific Northwest and southern Rockies are in good shape, Douglas said. High pressure in the North Pacific will mean a cold spring for China and very low temperatures in Alaska, with a storm track moving along the Canadian border.
The scenario is not good for winter crop areas in the Central United States, Douglas said, but the Pacific Northwest and California will have lower temperatures, allowing a slow snowmelt and steady precipitation.
The Pacific Northwest will have a relatively cool summer along the coast and higher temperatures inland, but it won't be hot, Douglas said. Precipitation will be near normal in the northern Pacific Northwest, but the weather will start drying out in southern Idaho and Oregon and California.
"With all this cool weather along the West Coast, it's going to be a pretty good grazing season," Douglas said.
Douglas said the current La Niña tends to favor a northern storm track toward the Pacific Northwest, leaving the southern United States dryer than normal. Drought in the Southwest will likely hold strong, he said.
Douglas said more drought is possible in Russia and Ukraine. It is associated with a warm water "pool" in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland. High pressure on top of the pool forced a trough down through England and created the drought in Russia.
If the warm water pool continues near Greenland into spring and summer, and if high pressure develops on top of it, there could be a repeat of last year's drought, Douglas said. But historically, it's unusual for Russia to have two hot, dry summers in a row, he said.
Australia continues to be wet due to the strong La Niña. Summer monsoons there are also very strong. Douglas thinks Australia will receive lots of moisture as long as the La Niña continues.
"For a dry area, they're in good shape," he said.
Douglas said his long-range forecasts are incorrect about 17 percent of the time. On the other hand, his forecasts are correct about 60 to 70 percent, he said.
Reardan, Wash., farmer Paul Gross felt he made the right decisions for his wheat production last year based on Douglas' forecast.
"He forecast hot and dry and I just had more summer fallow than I ever had in the last 20 years," Gross said. "I've got a big crop of winter wheat coming. I'm in good shape."
Gross said drought in the Midwest has a direct bearing on whether he forward contracts wheat or hangs onto it, selling it later in the year.
Kalispell, Mont., farmer Karl Schrade uses Douglas' forecast to look for trends and to weigh decisions about planting or fertilizer use. If there were dryer trends, he might consider changing to a different cropping system, he said.
But Schrade doesn't expect any changes.
"It should be a good year," he said. "It's going to follow pretty much what we did last year."
What about global warming?
Douglas used his forecast to point out several flaws in the theory of global warming, saying the weather patterns in the Arctic and Antarctica are beginning to stabilize. Ice in the Arctic is the thickest it's been in eight years, he said.
Sunspot forecasts point to an average of about 60 sunspots, compared to the previous average of 120.
Sunspot activity sends more energy to the planet, and if the peak times come farther apart, there are longer cooling periods, he said. The planet is warmer when sunspot peak times are closer together.
While Douglas said he doesn't believe the global warming theory needs to be out of the picture, but that it should be put in its proper place. If sunspot activity continues to be low, he said, global warming proponents will have to reverse their thinking.