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Early Frost And California Relief? Don’t Bank On It

08:22AM Jul 02, 2014

The threat of an early frost this fall already hit headlines. Meteorologists on this weekend’s U.S. Farm Report roundtable say while there is a chance, don’t bank on it.

"With El Niño on the horizon, there may be a slightly increased risk of a cool period in late summer in August, September," says U.S. Department of Agriculture Meteorologist Brad Rippey. "That’s when we start thinking about it, but it’s not a lock. It’s just something we have in the back of our mind as a concern as we head into late summer."

U.S. Farm Report Mike Hoffman meteorologist agrees. While El Niño does increase the chance of an early frost, it’s not a definite at this point. Hoffman’s outlook is for the cool, wet pattern in the Northern Corn Belt to continue. That’s also the area that’s behind in Growing Degree Unit days (GDUs).

"A lot of moisture, unfortunately, keeps the heat level down, which could stunt the growth of corn even more," says Hoffman. So, we do have to be concerned about an early frost or freeze there."

Hoffman says we’re already seeing the impact of the onset of El Nino, with some areas, like the Plains and Texas Panhandle, receiving much needed rain. Additional relief will be dependent upon the severity of El Niño once it’s here in full force.

"In general, I think the majority of us are leading toward a moderate or even a weak El Niño," he says.

Rippey agrees. A strong El Niño doesn’t come often. He says the last time we’ve seen one dates back to 1997-1998.

"When you think about that, the likelihood of a strong event is pretty remote," he says.

That also makes the system more difficult for meteorologists to predict. Strong events create defined weather patterns.

"The stronger the El Niño, the more I can look like a soothsayer," says Rippey. "The weaker the event, anything goes."

That’s not welcome news for California. A strong event would drop wide relief over the parched state. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows the entire state is suffocating from at least severe drought, with more than 30 percent under the most severe level.

"California, I think, is probably hoping for a strong El Niño," says Hoffman. "With a weak El Niño, I’m not sure whether it’s going to help them a whole lot."

Neither Rippey or Hoffman see any short-term relief for California either. Since the state’s wet season runs through late autumn through early spring, any chances of relief aren’t on the horizon. Add to that the chances of a strong El Niño fading, farmers and ranchers are trying to survive tough times.

"So, California’s kind of locked into drought until at least November, December or beyond," Rippey says.