The transition from La Niña to El Niño

A meteorologist says farmers across the Corn Belt should expect a gradual transition to an El Nino weather pattern.

Matt Makens says while the warmup is underway, it will take some time for the atmosphere to respond.  “I personally am not planning for a robust El Nino pattern across the country,” he says.  “I think we’re in a hybrid situation – eliminating some of the extremes.  We’re going to take the drought signal begin to reduce it, and start to incorporate some water.”

He tells Brownfield the central and southern Plains will be the last to turn the corner.  “From Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and south into the Panhandles, and also New Mexico, they’re in for a really long haul of pretty poor soil conditions before we can turn that corner and say we’re in a wetter pattern,” he says. 

Makens says Nebraska and Kansas already had a big hole to dig out of to start the planting season.  “The hope was to gradually melt, gradually thaw, and get some of that snow to penetrate the soil,” he says.  “That didn’t happen.  We need to start adding some rain or snow now that the ground is thawed.”

Makens says he’s optimistic about the forecast for the growing season in the Eastern Corn Belt.  “To have El Nino kick in fully would imply a drier outlook, but I’m not going full bore El Nino for the growing season,” he says.  “I think we do time out the precipitation well enough, the Eastern Corn Belt probably does really well in the end.  I think some near-term issues could how wet they are now.”

He says the outlook for Iowa is much better than in recent years.  “The drought numbers are retreating here,” he says.  “They’re not gone, but they’re retreating.  We’ve had really pretty decent winter.  But I wish the heat wouldn’t have been so robust last week, so that we could gradually return.”

Makens says the Northern Plains currently has a surplus of precipitation in the form of snow, timely rains throughout the Spring will be needed.  “The critical time is going to be the second or third week of May,” he says.  “We’re going to need to get some good rainfall in there about that time.  If that happens, pastures are going to do great probably for the rest of the season.  So we’ve got to get that moisture in and then we’re going to start to turn that dial up on the heat.”

He says while the impacts of an El Nino or La Nina can show up during the summer, they are most impactful during colder months.

Makens recently took part in Brownfield’s webinar series The Bottom Line, brought to you by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

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