Red-Hot Summer Blues

June 25, 2016 02:46 AM

Will La Niña’s arrival live up to the hype?

American satirist Russel Baker once said summer has the power “to make us suffer and like it.” It encompasses the make-or-break majority of the growing season, but the weather doesn’t always prove farmer-friendly. 

With that in mind, what sort of weather can we reasonably expect to see this summer? Here are some highlights of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) June, July and August outlook.

First, NOAA forecasters are predicting we’ll see warmer-than-average temperatures across most of the U.S. this summer. The only states forecasted for normal summer temperatures are Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Some private-sector forecasters say not even these states will be spared, however.

For precipitation, NOAA anticipates normal amounts of rain to fall across much of the U.S. this summer. 
The New England area and the western Corn Belt are the two geographies with the greatest chance to see a wetter-than-average summer for 2016.

Drought is expected to persist through August in the Southwest and California. Drought development is most likely to occur in Pennsylvania, northern Minnesota, western North Dakota and the Pacific Northwest.

Forecasters have been abuzz about the potential effects of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) switching to La Niña and how that might impact 2016 U.S. crops. After looking over the summer weather forecasts, Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends 360, is bearish on U.S. grain yields.

“We have this summer as the second-hottest in the past 25 years,” he says. “It’s second only to 2012, which makes this a top-five hottest pollination period in 121 years of record keeping.”

Weather Trends also predicts 2016 will be the driest summer since 2012, and the fourth-driest summer of the past 25 years, Kirk says. Tally it up to an estimated 10% lower yields from 2015, he says—and watch for a potential price rally that could peak in early August.

But don’t bet the bank on what ENSO is up to, warns Chris Anderson, assistant director for Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program.

“In these years that transition from El Niño to La Niña, drought conditions tend to be short-lived and small in scale,” he says. “There is unlikely to be the type of drought that covers the Corn Belt for four to eight weeks.”

The fall might be dry as La Niña settles in, Anderson says.

El Niño is a naturally occurring climate cycle in the eastern Pacific Ocean. ENSO cycles among three conditions—neutral, El Niño and La Niña. During El Niño conditions, ocean temperatures are warmer than normal, and during La Niña conditions, ocean temperatures are cooler than normal.

Even though the phenomenon originates thousands of miles from the Corn Belt, each cycle affects U.S. weather to varying degrees, depending on the length and strength of each one.

     Historically, Weather Trends 360 data shows hotter-than-average     temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall during June, July      and August lead to lower grain yields.

Laura Edwards, Extension climate field specialist with South Dakota State University, says while all signs point to La Niña, its exact arrival in the Midwest is a little hard to gauge. That’s because the weather phenomenon originates in the equatorial Pacific waters and takes time to shift atmospheric temperatures thousands of miles away.

“That’s the harder part to predict, so that’s where the uncertainty lies,” Edwards says. “Even so, the ENSO cycle is one of the better understood climate cycles. It tends to be a more reliable weather predictor, even when it’s not exactly right.”

Edwards says farmers might have to wait until August before some truly interesting weather scenarios come into play. “If it turns dry in August, it will affect our soybean yields in the Northern Plains,” she says.

A drier fall wouldn’t spell disaster for all farmers, however, Edwards says.

“On the flip side, a drier fall means a better harvest, and it can save money at the elevator if you don’t have to mechanically dry grain,” she says.

General trends notwithstanding, summer precipitation tends to be “really local,” Edwards adds.

Will La Niña’s arrival live up to the hype? Time will tell, but there’s little doubt that it’s well on its way.  

For 2016, Weather Trends 360 is predicting the hottest, driest summer since 2012, with large sections of the Corn Belt possibly seeing “much above average” temperatures throughout June, July and August.

For regular forecasts from “AgDay” meteorologist Mike Hoffman and more than a dozen maps tailored to farmers, visit


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