How to Spell Drought R-E-L-I-E-F Out West

02:35PM Jun 20, 2014
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 According to the classic 1980s TV commercial, R-O-L-A-I-D-S spells relief. But farmers in the West and Southwest hope that developing El Niño conditions will spell another R-word they desperately want: R-A-I-N.

Tony Lupo, chair of atmospheric sciences at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, says recent climate patterns have shown signs of transitioning into an El Niño state, which would allow the Jetstream to flow over the middle U.S., bringing much-needed rainfall across large portions of the Western U.S.

"The long-lasting ridging over the eastern Pacific showed signs of weakening earlier [in June]," he says. "When this pattern diminishes, as I predict it will sometime by September, a more normal jet stream pattern will return and direct much-needed rainfall back to parched California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas."


Lupo says that California and Nevada are in their third year of what the U.S. Drought Monitor calls an "extreme drought," the second highest of six rankings, and about 10% of those areas are experiencing an "exceptional drought," the highest possible level. As of mid-May, approximately 38% of the contiguous U.S. saw some level of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

6 17 14 drought monitor

Worldwide, El Niño is not always a welcome event, says Chris Anderson, the assistant director of Iowa State University's Climate Science Program.

"The specific South American impacts of El Niño are a wet Argentina and warm Brazil," he says. "Heat can be a problem for soybean, much more for corn, in South America during El Niño. The big thing this year is that they're coming off a dry period, and the soil may be too dry to be supportive should a hot period emerge this winter under the influence of El Niño."

China is also sometimes negatively impacted, but not always he says.

"That’s really about it," he says. "Europe is not strongly impacted."

Midwest farmers can generally expect positive yields during El Niño conditions, he adds. The best year under a summer El Niño was 1994, when yields tipped the scales at 120% of the 5-year average, he says.