The United States faces a better than 50% chance of hotter-than-average temperatures this summer, according to one of the government’s chief weather forecasters, presenting at last week’s USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.
Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, presented the latest long-term weather forecast. "We expect normal conditions to continue this spring," he said. But by mid-summer, "the slight edge may go to a warm event."
NOAA’s forecast through mid-May shows
slightly above-normal temperatures through most of the South, with high temperatures in California and Arizona. The maps project cooler-than-normal temperatures over the Great Lakes.
The agency’s three-month precipitation forecast shows average rainfall in most of the United States, with the exception of the Gulf Coast and the Coastal Northwest, which should have below-normal rainfall.
Artusa’s outlook shows that the drought in California and parts of the Southwest will intensify through May. But he thinks that current drought conditions in the Midwest are likely to disappear.
Thirty-six percent of the continental U.S.,
including parts of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remains in drought, said Brad Rippey, an agricultural meteorologist with USDA, who joined Artusa on the panel. That’s down from last year’s peak of 55%.
Rippey highlighted the severity of California’s drought conditions. He presented aerial maps showing a bare snow cover in southern California’s mountains.
The state’s hopes for mitigating extreme drought conditions hinge on a "Miracle March" with strong rains. After that, the state goes into a traditionally dry season.
"California," Rippey said, "is in its third year of drought, with depleted soil moisture and diminishing water supplies."
Faced with water restrictions, Rippey predicted that California farmers will try first to protect their investment in tree crops. Annual crops such as lettuce or hay might fall by the wayside.