Will our weather change this winter?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, large portions of Dunklin and Pemiscot County are classified as being in the extreme drought category. The remainder of both counties is classified as severe drought. Regardless of how you look at our situation, we are dry. Within the past several weeks, I have been contacted by our state extension climatologist, Pat Guinan, and by the National Weather Service in Memphis regarding our crop situation and what to expect during the winter.

Earlier this week, I saw an on-line article that caught my interest. The article can be found at this site, http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/the-super-la-nina-and-the-coming-winter/.

This article is entitled,'The Super La Nina and the coming winter.' It was written by Art Horn who is an independent meteorologist. He had 25 years experience working in television broadcasting.

According to Wikipedia, La Nina is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Nino as part of the broader El Nino-Southern Oscillation climate pattern. During a period of La Nina, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal.

Horn indicated that La Nina which is the opposite of the El Nino effect historically will drop the Earth's average temperature by one degree and the drop comes quickly. He indicates that as a result of this drop, some of the places that had record heat during the summer could have record cold this winter.

I sent the article to Pat Guinan and got his response. He sent me a chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration entitled, 'NOAA: Another Winter of Extremes in Store for U.S. as La Nina Strengthens.' This chart can be found at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20101021_winteroutlook.html.

According to this chart, our area should have a 40 percent chance of being warmer than normal. This time frame is for December, January, and February. While this is good news, perhaps the best news is that we should have a 33 to 40 percent chance of being wetter.

To put this into perspective, he also sent me an Excel chart showing winter temperatures following the twenty hottest summers for the Bootheel. This is for the months of June, July, and August. No one should be surprised that our average temperatures this summer are the third hottest of the twenty hottest summers.

The only two years that had hotter summers than this year occurred in 1936 and 1934 with an average of 82.0 and 81.7 degrees, respectively. This year we had an average temperature of 81.6 degrees. There were three other years in the top twenty in this decade with 2007 ranking 12th, 2002 ranking 18th, and 2005 ranking 19th. The average summer temperatures for 2007, 2002, and 2005 were 80.2, 79.6, and 79.5, respectively.

So during the previous top twenty hottest summers, how did average winter temperatures turn out? Again the results are in our favor. Of the other 19 top twenty years, the winter was warmer during 12 of the 19 years. One year was equal to the average winter temperature and six were actually colder. Our average winter temperature is 37.4 degrees.

Our last drought year was 2007 which was actually drier during the summer months, but due to the lower average temperatures, the drought was not as severe.

So with the exceptional number of heat units this year, we have had really good harvest conditions this year. Other than being dusty and having blowing sand conditions this fall, our producers are almost completely through this harvest season.

According to the Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending on October 24, cotton harvest was 96 percent complete which is well ahead of last year and 38 days ahead of normal. Soybean harvest shows a similar pattern. In the Southeast region, we are 81 percent complete which compares with the 39 percent at the same date last year and the 52 percent normal. Corn harvest is over but we still had some corn in the field at this time last year. Grain sorghum harvest is complete in SE Missouri compared with 55 percent last year and 61 percent for the average. Rice harvest was completed by October 10 which was 31 days ahead of normal.

The concern right now is lack of moisture. Although 81 percent of our wheat has been planted, in my opinion, most of it will not have enough moisture to get the crop growing properly unless it can be sprinkler irrigated. In looking at the Crop Progress and Condition Report, the SE region has 92 percent of the soil moisture in the very short and short categories. The South Central Region has 91 percent in those categories. Six of the nine regions have 50 percent or greater of adequate moisture levels.

Due to the lack of precipitation, pasture conditions in the south-central district and Bootheel continue to be the poorest in the State and were rated 53 and 85 percent poor to very poor, respectively. So until we get more consistent rainfall, there will be little change in the pastures, burn orders, and wheat.

With the La Nina effect, wheat that is planted between the Mississippi River and the levee is subject to excess moisture in the spring.

University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all

Dr. Michael R. Milam is an agronomy specialist and county program director with University of Missouri Extension in Dunklin County.

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