Weather watchers hoping to see an emerging El Nino event, characterized by warmer than average waters in the equatorial Pacific off the coast of Peru got some welcome news from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
The two organizations monitor ocean temperatures, currents and wind developments in key areas that drive El Nino and La Nina (cooler than average) events.
They agree that current conditions still remain El Nino neutral, but they place the odds that an El Nino will develop this summer at 70% and increase them to 80% for fall and winter. El Nino conditions increase the changes for wetter conditions across the U.S., especially drought-savaged southwestern region.
That result, however, is far from guaranteed and many forecasters say the impact is very dependent on the strength of the El Nino. The stronger the event, the more likely it is that the jet stream will sink southward, bringing storm systems into the U.S. along the coast of southern California as opposed to Oregon and Washington.
The latest discussion report from the Climate Prediction Center indicates that indicators of a building El Nino fell somewhat in May from those seen earlier in the spring, increasing the chance that the event will not be as strong as the El Nino of 1997-98. They are predicting it will be a "moderate" strength event.
Updates on what scientists are observing can be found on the ENSO blog, which is updated regularly.
"El Niño is generally favorable to crop production in the United States because it brings extra rain and moisture into the core crop-growing areas," says Jay O'Neil, an instructor and specialist in Kansas State University's International Grains Program. "We're just coming out of a four-year drought cycle in the United States and we'd like to get back to what we call trend-line yields and big crop production so there's plenty for everybody."