Will we have an El Nino or won't we?
Ever since scientists started studying the phenomenon of ocean surface water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific and their impact on weather in the U.S., especially the southwestern U.S. and the southern Great Plains, interest in the event has been heightened.
It was heightened when Climate Prediction Center forecasts for an extremely wet year for southern California proved accurate in 1996 and 1997 when there was an especially strong El Nino event.
For the last two or three years, the equatorial Pacific has been "neutral" and before that was in La Nina, or a cooler-than-normal cycle which has at least some impact on ongoing drought in California, the southwestern U.S. and the southern Plains as far north as southern Nebraska.
El Nino uncertainty
Currently, the El Nino status is "watch" with conditions indicating a 60 to 65% chance that an El Nino will develop as winter approaches. Most of the models, however, are predicting a weak El Nino, which is less likely to bring a warmer, wetter winter to Oklahoma and Kansas.
The El Nino uncertainty, along with somewhat neutral indications from climate prediction models means that the Climate Prediction Center has a vague forecast for Kansas over the next 90 days – equal chances that temperatures will be above normal and below normal and equal changes that precipitation will be above normal or below normal.
All that goes to say, if you plan to plant wheat by the long-term weather forecast, well, good luck with that.
What southern Kansas farmers know is that in spite of a wet June and timely showers in July, conditions have been drying up this fall and the threat of a renewed drought is creeping in. September recorded rainfall in Wichita was only .47 inches, 2.67 inches short of normal and August was drier than average as well with only 2.38 inches of rain, 1.33 inches below average.
And that's all the more reason to cheer for warming waters in the equatorial Pacific and a jet stream that steers winter storms across the southern Plains.