We used to chuckle in the weather office during the 1980s over how many times winter wheat was killed off during the futures trading sessions between October and May and yet the crops would almost always persevere. It looks like the world of weather is now in that same realm with global warming, climate change and El Niño the buzzwords for the past several years. The world is still spinning and at the time of this writing what is left of the latest very strong El Niño event was waning quickly. Sea surface temperatures in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean were just one-half of a degree Celsius away from returning to normal in many areas and a full degree in other areas. El Niño is meeting its certain death and strong evidence is building that La Niña will begin influencing the world’s weather in the next several months. But first, a period of more normal weather is expected.
The next few weeks will remove all of the influence of El Niño from atmospheric circulations and La Niña will not have much influence until late spring or early summer. In the interim period, atmospheric circulation will suddenly be controlled by other weaker weather phenomenon. The change will allow anomalous weather that has been prevailing for months to begin returning to normal. For Southeast Asia, where rainfall has been well below average in recent weeks in both the Philippines and mainland areas, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, precipitation will gradually increase, finally easing a six-week delay in the arrival of seasonal rainfall. For North America, the ridge of high pressure over the west will slowly break down and in South America, Argentina will see less rain and colder temperatures and Brazil will see a return to more typical weather for this time of year. Australia will experience some additional timely rain events and South Africa will finally move more definitively away from dryness.
Just a few weeks from now, however, La Niña will begin its influence, and if tradition has its way with that phenomenon there will be two distinct changes in the world’s weather in the second half of 2016 and in 2017. Those changes will be a reduction in precipitation (gradually) across the middle latitudes in both the northern and southern hemisphere while a general increase in rainfall impacts the tropical world.
Two of the stronger El Niño events recorded in recent history were followed by strong La Niña events that lasted two to three years. The last time La Niña lasted that long two notable droughts occurred in the northern hemisphere: the Great Russian drought of 2010 that lingered in some locations for a few years and the U.S. 2012 drought. In both cases extreme dryness and heat eventually developed in response to multiple years of net drying in the middle latitudes, allowing wild swings in temperatures to take place. Both of these great droughts were driven mostly by lower relative humidity and wild swings in temperature extremes. The same should be expected in the next two years with emphasis on 2017. Much of the balance of this year will be spent in shifting weather patterns and just beginning to dry down the middle latitudes.
U.S. to be hotter, drier
World Weather, Inc. speculates that 2016 U.S. drought mongers may end up a little ahead of themselves. Yes, rainfall will be less than usual and there will be a warm tendency at the end of summer after a few weeks of coolness in May and June, but will it result in a serious drought in 2016? Maybe not. It might just be the start of a more significant bout of dryness that will have a bigger impact on 2017. As the air dries out over the next two years we should anticipate wilder swings in temperature including some impressive cold days next winter and some impressive heat late this summer and again in the summer of 2017.
Argentina, Russia and China will all be on a tentative dryness watch list for late this year and more likely in 2017. All three countries are not destined for extreme droughts, but each will have some potential to experience dryness at one time or another that might impact at least a part of the growing seasons.
In the meantime, many tropical regions of the world are seeing their final days of dryness. The Philippines and mainland areas of Southeast Asia are not just going to suddenly find rain falling abundantly, but three to six months from now rain is likely to be falling more abundantly and with greater veracity. India’s monsoon will experience progressively greater rain as the summer wears on with some weakness in the initial days of the monsoon season.
Southern China’s excessive rain situation that has been prevailing for the past few months will slowly abate and three to six months from now dryness is expected to evolve in the interior south. Similarly, central Africa, central America, Colombia and Venezuela will all see improving rainfall later this year with the stress of delayed seasonal rains expected to wane during the next three to four weeks.
East-central Africa, however, is prone to drought during mature La Niña events and a close watch on Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and parts of Ethiopia is warranted for the fourth quarter of 2016 and most of the year in 2017.
Good near-term news for wheat
In the near term weather outlook, World Weather, Inc. expects wheat in the United, States, Europe, Russia and China to perform relatively well. There will be some risk of freeze damage in the eastern Midwest in early May, but hard red winter wheat is expected to perform well despite some wet weather diseases this spring. Canada’s weather is expected to improve with small grains in the southwestern Prairies getting greater rainfall, while Ontario and Quebec finally break from a persistent wet and cool bias. Europe’s wet and cool bias, however, may come and go frequently in 2016 and that will lead to smaller yields and a possible crop quality issue.
Australia planting is expected to go well, and for the first time in at least two years South Africa will have a chance to plant wheat favorably with some timely rain moistening the soil satisfactorily to get planting done on time. Argentina and Brazil planting will advance well, although winter is expected to come early in both regions, placing much pressure to get crops into the ground as early as possible.