La Nina May Bring Heat This Summer

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
Warmer temperatures are on tap this summer for most of the U.S. (DTN)

El Nino, which was historically strong this past winter, whittled away in the spring. As of early May, conditions in the Pacific Ocean are heading toward normal, but only briefly, as ocean temperatures fall below normal and become a La Nina sometime this summer.

The return of La Nina will likely spark fears of poor weather conditions in the western half of the Corn Belt like we saw through much of the 2020-2022 growing seasons, when La Nina was in control.

La Nina usually has a stronger influence in the wintertime in the U.S. but can promote a stagnant ridge of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere across the country. If the ridge is indeed stagnant, it could lead to hot and dry conditions during the midst of the reproductive stages for row crops and could cut yields.

Both history and long-range weather models imply widespread heat this summer, but precipitation is a little more unknown. The western half of the Corn Belt is forecast to have poorer conditions than the east this year.

Here's a closer look at the summer weather outlook by region:

Pacific Northwest (Idaho, Oregon and Washington): Good weather continued throughout most of the spring. Drought was limited mostly to the snowpack in the northern Rockies but saw better amounts in early May. Ample snowpack in the rest of the region should provide a good starting point for this year's crops. Weather will likely stay active and either side of normal early in the summer. But, as the season wears on, the likelihood for hotter stretches increases. That could occur beyond the life cycle of much of the region's row crops, but specialty crops and trees could face larger concerns later in the summer. That might be enough to provide fuel for wildfires going into fall.

Southwest: The spring weather pattern continued to stay active but was not enough to eliminate drought in the Four Corners area (southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, northeast Arizona, northwest New Mexico). Mountains have good snowpack on which to draw from, and water conditions in the region are getting back to normal levels. Unfortunately, the heat is likely to return during the summer, especially later in the season. Models suggest that the monsoon rains will be limited. We could see drought increasing this summer, even though it is normally a dry season anyway.

Northern Plains: An active storm track has done much to limit the expansion of drought in the region but not completely eliminate it this spring. Soil moisture is starting the growing season with a good footing, however. June may be a good month for keeping this wetter period going as long as the upper-level ridge does not get its hold on the region early. But, later in the summer, when corn and soybeans are looking for good rainfall during pollination, there is a higher probability of hotter and drier conditions. We may see a good-looking crop turn poor throughout the summer season on fields without irrigation. Small grains may be able to escape the worst conditions, but farmers who graze or need hay might need to look outside of their operations.

Central and Southern Plains: The active spring pattern has been a blessing in some areas but skipped over others at times, leaving those in the southwest drier than normal and in need of frequent summer rainfall. May was also looking to be active, and depending on how the weather unfolded, we could see most areas in relatively good shape or poor shape entering the summer. If it is in poor shape, the risk is on for hot and dry weather during the summer that will likely sap soil moisture, possibly increase and expand drought, and leave livestock producers looking to import hay and feed.

Coastal Texas and Louisiana: An active storm track that developed over the winter continued into the spring and brought areas of heavy rain that eliminated the drought from 2023. Dryness will be a major concern in early summer, as a hot ridge likely limits precipitation. However, there is potential for more tropical activity, especially later in the summer, which may increase showers coming off of the Gulf of Mexico and increase the threat for tropical storms.

Midwest: An active storm track over the spring brought most areas out of drought and reduced long-term rainfall deficits, but also left some areas a little too wet through early May. While this caused some delays to planting, it should have been a net benefit for the region. That might be needed, as temperatures are looking to be above normal for most of the summer. Rainfall is likely to be streaky and sporadic, but there is neither an above- or below-normal bent to it. Some areas will likely do just fine, while others will be begging for water.

Delta/Lower Mississippi Valley: Drought was eliminated over the spring with a very active weather pattern. That brought a bit too much rain at times and delayed planting in some areas, though most farmers were able to get an early start to their season. The region is likely to see overall favorable conditions throughout the summer, though hotter stretches may occur. The rainfall forecast of near- or even slightly above-normal amounts is expected to keep crop conditions from declining too much throughout the season. However, if enhanced precipitation occurs due to a more active tropical storm season, flooding may be a bigger concern.

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast: Drought has not been an ongoing concern as the active spring weather pattern continued to bring ample moisture. Some areas of flooding early in the spring have abated, and growing conditions are good for most areas. While hotter stretches are likely and could last longer than what is typical this summer, the forecast of near-normal rainfall throughout the season should lead to overall good growing conditions.

Southeast: An active-enough storm track is leading to most areas going into the summer season with good conditions. History and models suggest the summer thunderstorm season will be active, or at least active enough, to continue fair to good growing conditions throughout the summer. With a La Nina, the region will have to watch for an increase in the tropical storms.


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