At the moment approximately two-thirds of the country is going through drought conditions. Nearly all of the southern half of the country is experiencing some dryness while the Northern Plains’ states are still experiencing drought after last year's drought.
The current drought is because of a La Nina weather pattern, says Art Douglas, meteorologist and professor emeritus at Creighton University. Douglas gave a weather outlook heading into the growing season during the annual CattleFax presentation at the Cattle Industry Convention in Phoenix.
Water temperatures along the Equator off the western coast of South America are abnormally cold.
“Basically what happens with La Nina is you have a lot of trade winds on the Equator. It cools the water, mixes cold water from below,” Douglas says.
When the water is cold there is less energy and evaporation, meaning less moisture is in the atmosphere. The tropical jet stream from the Equator has been pushing dry weather conditions northward. Warm water along the North Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Coast have also complicated matters.
Looking forward Douglas says it is difficult to project what will happen with the El Nino weather pattern. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is projecting La Nina to continue through the summer, while European models predict La Nina to end in May 2018.
The vegetation index in the Southwest is showing a lot of red. Producers have to watch this drought as it heads into the spring, Douglas says.
The rest of February looks like it could be cool in the Plains states and Upper Midwest. Southeast and Southwest temperatures should be warmer. Precipitation will be short in the Southwest and there could be a more moisture in the Northeast.
Heading into the spring the western third of the country looks like it will still be warm and dry.
“The real problem is we’re going to have a strong northwest flow between a high pressure ridge and trough. Basically that is going to prevent Gulf of Mexico moisture from moving northward,” Douglas says.
He predicts that winter wheat regions like the Southern Plains will stay dry and so will the feedlot region in the High Plains. With the moisture being pushed east this will likely delay planting in the northeastern Corn Belt.
The summer forecast looks great for crop growers in the Corn Belt.
“Overall from a (crop and forage) growing condition situation in the U.S. things look pretty good,” Douglas says. “The only negative is it is going to be a relatively cool spring so planting will delayed. As we get into the summer cooler temperatures and moisture will really help things out.”
However, drought conditions could continue for producers in the Western U.S., along with New Mexico and Texas.