A recent rapid warming in the equatorial Pacific Ocean has increased the odds for an El Nino pattern to develop as early as this summer, an event that can influence U.S. weather but unlikely affect Midwest crops until fall, when below-average precipitation is often observed, the National Weather Service's Jon Gottschalck told Farm Futures in an interview.
"The odds for an El Nino have significantly gone up in the last month or so," said Gottschalck, who is acting chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at NWS's Climate Prediction Center. "Ocean temperatures are beginning to warm up across the equatorial Pacific."
There has been considerable talk among weather forecasters that an El Nino will occur, but Gottschalck said it could be May before forecasters can say with high confidence that one may develop. El Nino is the warming of the sea surface in the equatorial Pacific, an event that can affect North American weather.
If there is a summer El Nino, it could be similar to the previous one in 2009, which also developed during the summer. That year, the Midwest had a cool spring, with some planting delays, while the summer was cool with above average rainfall at times. September and October had ample rain, but early November was dry and allowed for rapid harvesting.
That year, the United States produced 13.2 million bushels of corn and 3.36 billion bushels of soybeans, both of which were records at the time.
"Even if we see El Nino conditions develop, some of the stronger impacts would be in the fall and winter," Gottschalck said of the Midwest crop weather. "The odds of having much impact on the Midwest's growing season are pretty low this summer."
While an El Nino could produce dry conditions this fall in the Midwest, Gottschalck said that it "does not mean drought."
"There should not be enough changes in temperature or precipitation to impact the crops," he said.
How will the March 31 USDA reports impact your bottom line? Farm Futures Senior Market Analyst Bryce Knorr and Farm Futures Senior Editor Bob Burgdorfer will discuss the reports and the spring weather outlook in a free webinar April 7 at 7 p.m. CDT. Learn more about the Farm Futures webinar.