The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) says ENSO-neutral conditions are favored into the summer, with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) remaining below-average across the eastern half of the equatorial Pacific Ocean during February. It says most models project ENSO-neutral conditions through the summer, although it notes an increasing model spread and less confidence in the forecast the last half of the year.
CPC notes: "The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) similarly increased during the month, largely due to the eastward push of above-average temperatures at depth. The Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) again contributed to increased atmospheric variability over the tropical Pacific during February. Anomalous low-level winds were primarily easterly over the west-central equatorial Pacific, while upper-level winds remained near average, but with some intra-monthly variability. Over Indonesia, anomalous convection remained enhanced north of the equator and suppressed south of the equator. Due to the lack of persistent atmosphere-ocean coupling, the tropical Pacific continues to reflect ENSO-neutral."
The CPC also updated its Seasonal Drought Outlook this morning, calling for some drought improvement across the western Corn Belt, but for persistence of drought from Kansas southward. It notes that spring-time brings an increase in precip across much of the country and says in the north-central Rockies and Central Plains, 30% to 40% of yearly precipitation falls on average during spring, mainly due to the wet May. But it goes on to say, "Regarding the large area of extreme to exceptional drought in the nation's midsection, precipitation normals increase significantly later in the forecast period, and precipitation then will be the primary driving factor behind the Drought Monitor depiction for the end of May. Still, with significant precipitation forecast in parts of the Central and Upper Plains through mid-March -- on top of the rain and snow observed in late February -- it seems likely that at least some surface moisture increases will be observed. Therefore, some improvement was forecast for much of the northern half of the Plains. With only one month of the wet season included in this forecast period, more substantial, longer-term improvement is unlikely. Additionally, the three-month outlook favors below-median precipitation across roughly the southwest half of the extreme to exceptional drought area. There are equal chances for wetness and dryness in the rest of the area."
Juli says: The updated Drought Outlook map reflects a notable shift in the area of "expected improvement," but it's also important to note that drought -- in some form -- is expected to linger in this key production area. It also suggests that recent moisture improvement across the Central and Southern Plains are only temporary, and stress to the HRW wheat crop will resume and intensify as it continues to come out of dormancy.