Ag Weather Forum

El Nino Made Its Mark In 2015

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Heavy spring and early summer rains in the eastern and southern Corn Belt were almost 100% identical with patterns identified in El Nino season research. (Florida State University graphic)

When the U.S. 2015 crop year is analyzed in years to come -- and it will be -- there is little doubt in my mind that one of the first phrases to identify this season will be something along the lines of "It was really an El Nino year."

That may seem like a trivial point -- after all, Pacific Ocean temperature patterns catalogued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and analyzed by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) show that El Nino warmth (above-normal equator-region temperatures) went into effect in the February-March-April period, and have stayed there since. However, I still heard comments from trade sources this past week saying that El Nino had been a "slow-developing" feature.

In response to that, may I offer the heavy, record-breaking rain in the eastern and southern Corn Belt, the southeastern Plains, and parts of the Delta last spring. May I also offer the mild and dry trend in the northwestern Corn Belt. Those two features were springboards to crop-condition topics that dominated the rest of the season -- and they are also prominent in a comprehensive look at El Nino (or La Nina) effects on North America weather patterns done by Florida State University in 1989 -- more than 25 years ago.

In terms of row crops, what dominated the weekly discussions until practically July 1 of this year? The dominant items were fears of acreage loss due to flooding along with very slow planting because of heavy rains in the southern and eastern Midwest -- and, the rapid pace of planting due to warm temperatures and drier soils in the northwestern Midwest. Those two large-scale areas are identified specifically in the Florida State study. And, on a very stressful dry side, the Pacific Northwest was bereft of meaningful precipitation -- yet another indicator of El Nino's presence and influence.

Pacific temperatures remained at El Nino-warm levels through the rest of the summer and now into the fall season as well. And, for the Midwest, temperatures were from about 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal to two degrees Fahrenheit below normal; values which that limited stress to crops, further bolstering production estimates.

In addition, southern Brazil and Argentina have had some very heavy rains through the past couple months; and now, Australia's wheat areas are turning very dry with almost no rain forecast for the next week. There are also reports of concern for dryness in the southeast Asia palm oil plantations. All these are indicators of El Nino flexing its muscle.

But, El Nino already did -- repeatedly -- in the past six months.


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Bryce Anderson
9/28/2015 | 9:43 AM CDT
A wheat grower in South Australia sent along a note early Monday a.m. saying that he's seeing the El Nino impact: "Affecting the grain balance sheet now majorly too--really starting to bite."
9/27/2015 | 8:03 PM CDT
What's this? Not one word about climate change? Bryce, you are letting the left down! You must try to do better!