Warm Pacific Ocean Temperatures Signal Central U.S. Drought Risk

February 25, 2014 03:56 AM
Warm Pacific Ocean Temperatures Signal Central U.S. Drought Risk

Warming equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures signal hot, dry weather will hurt crops in Texas to the Tennessee Valley from May to July, a climate forecaster said.

Subsurface Pacific Ocean temperature anomalies as of Feb. 17 doubled from 10 days earlier and moved east, U.S. Climate Prediction Center data show. The pattern, which brought flooding rains to central Brazil while keeping eastern regions in drought, may signal intensifying dry weather for the U.S. south- central this year, according to Scott Yuknis, the lead forecaster with Climate Impact Co. in Middleboro, Massachusetts.

Some beneficial, yet sporadic, rain from April to early June in Kansas and Oklahoma may prevent a more widespread, devastating drought developing in the heart of the winter wheat growing region, Yuknis said.

"It is an important shift in the ocean temperatures," Yuknis said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We are going to see extremely hot, dry weather this summer" from Texas and southern Oklahoma into Arkansas and the Tennessee River Valley, Yuknis said.

About 21 percent of the Great Plains from Kansas to North Dakota was rated in moderate-to-exceptional drought on Feb. 18, while 58 percent of Texas was rated in drought and 47 percent of Oklahoma, data from the U.S. Drought Monitor show.

The ocean temperature pattern also projects an increase in rain in parched California and the northwest during the next few weeks. Rains will help to ease top soil moisture deficits without improving subsoil reserves or depleted reservoirs, Yuknis said.

Drought in California will persist in 2014, and that means a cold, wet weather pattern in the Midwest will hamper snow melt and warming soil temperatures during the next month, leading to delays in planting progress from the Dakotas to Illinois during April and May, Yuknis said.

"The Corn Belt is going to stay cool and wet from March to May, increasing the risks for flooding and delayed planting," Yuknis said. "I see nothing for a reversal in the cool pattern. There will be some short-term breaks, but not enough lasting warm temperatures. Summer temperatures will also stay below normal."



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