El Nino Expected to Diminish Quickly This Spring

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
Weather Precipitation Anomaly (inches), Valid for March through May, 2024 (DTN)

El Nino peaked in January in the Pacific Ocean, and outside of a strong burst from the polar vortex in mid-January, it has had a hold on the weather pattern across North America all winter. As is typical with El Nino, it is forecast to end during the first half of 2024. There could even be the reverse, La Nina, sometime during the summer. But, the speed at which the transition occurs will play an important part in how the weather situation will turn out for spring planting and early growing conditions for the 2024 crop season. The faster it goes toward neutral or even La Nina, the more volatile the weather may become. If it is slower, the control from El Nino will continue deeper through the spring. That would tend to be warmer conditions across the north and a persistent storm track across the south. Unfortunately, climate models from around the world show the decay of El Nino coming at vastly different rates, leading to a lot of uncertainty about the spring weather patterns.

Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon and Washington): Relatively good weather over the winter should leave very little drought in the region for the start of the 2024 growing season. Though the uncertainty with the spring season is high, good soil moisture to start out the spring and a lack of any signal for dryness in the forecast leads to an overall good outlook for winter and spring grains. Those with specialty crops will see a boost from the drought-ridden past couple of years and hopes for bigger yields.

Southwest: Thanks to Hurricane Hilary in August and a good El Nino storm track through the region over the winter, much of the region has seen very little drought or dry soils. Mountain snow is piling up, and the threat for additional issues with irrigation are low. If La Nina develops this summer, it would likely enhance the monsoon showers, which would help to feed local rivers. If it is delayed until fall, there is a risk of lower showers from the monsoon and a return to drought conditions, which would increase the heat in the region, as well.

Northern Plains: Little of the region is currently in actual drought at the end of January, though it has not been all that active so far this winter. As long as El Nino remains in control, that will largely be the case. However, if El Nino declines quickly as forecast, a variable weather pattern will be more likely, which could cause some delays for planting, depending on the timing of storm systems, but also potentially increasing soil moisture for early plant growth. There are no guarantees here, however.

Central and Southern Plains: Drought has been a nuisance or significant detriment for the last several years, and there continue to be pockets of drought where long-term precipitation deficits continue to be large. But, on the whole, the region has seen some good precipitation this winter, and winter wheat is in better shape to start 2024 than the previous couple of years. The southern storm track should continue to build soil moisture through the spring, depending on when El Nino starts losing its influence, and may continue through late spring. While that may make it more difficult to get the 2024 corn and soybean crop in the ground, it would make for good soil moisture for all.

Coastal Texas and Louisiana: Dryness and drought that built in over the summer and fall have been hard to get rid of. Some significant precipitation deficits remain in Louisiana. However, El Nino's southern storm track has brought vast improvement to the drought situation over the winter, and few effects of the drought remain. Even if the southern storm track quickly lifts out of the region this spring, the region is set up much better than the end of last season.

Midwest: Long-term precipitation deficits continue in the western half of the region. Even though some heavy precipitation events have occurred this winter, it will take much more precipitation to get out of drought in Iowa, especially. If the drought is still around, spring precipitation will be very important in that growth. Eastern areas of the region are forecast to see good rainfall and continued building of soil moisture, which has been a surprise under El Nino. Planting may be delayed in some areas due to the moisture, but early growth is expected to be good.

Delta/Lower Mississippi Valley: Drought has all but been eliminated in the region this winter as the southern storm track has allowed for heavy precipitation events to reduce drought to almost nothing outside of a few pockets. El Nino favors the continued inundation of showers in the region which may slow planting, but give an early good footing for growing crops.

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast: Heavy precipitation through the winter has caused little concern for drought going into the 2024 season. Any areas of drought in the south have been eliminated over the winter. With El Nino potentially bringing more intense coastal storms into the spring, soil moisture is expected to be high to start the campaign. It may cause problems with planting, but early growth should be good.

Southeast: Drought has been in and out of the region since last summer, but El Nino has been providing improved rainfall in some larger storms during the winter. The storm track is favored to go through the region through the spring as long as it is still asserting its influence. That should provide much of the region with good soil moisture to start the year, even if long-term rainfall deficits remain in some areas. A quicker end to El Nino may leave the region drier prior to summer, however.


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