Our latest calculation of the sea surface temperature departure in the equatorial eastern Pacific for the month of January stands at 2.9 degrees Celsius above normal. This is down from the peak for this event in December of 3.6 degrees C above normal. However, this El Nino remains a strong event.
In looking at the last 2 strong El Ninos in 1997-98 and 1982-83, the 1997-1998 event peaked at 4.8 degrees C above normal in December 1997, but was still at 4.1 degrees C above normal in January 1998. That El Nino event continued into June of 1998. The Pacific temperatures then returned to more normal levels between July and November, reaching weak La Nina conditions by December 1998.
The 1982-1983 El Nino peaked at 3.9 degrees C above normal in November 1982. It had dropped to 2.7 degrees C above normal in January 1983. However, the '82-83 El Nino persisted through August of 1983 before the Pacific temperatures returned to normal levels between September and December 1983. It is interesting to note that, in 1983, there was a rapid change in the Midwest weather pattern during July, from wet weather in the spring and early summer to hot and dry weather during mid to late summer, which had a significant adverse impact on crops. This change in the weather pattern occurred under El Nino conditions.
It does appear that the current El Nino will likely persist for at least the next few months. And, based on similiar El Nino events, it seems unlikely that we would transition into a La Nina during the upcoming growing season. However, the lack of a shift to a La Nina does not rule out the possibility of some drought conditions in the Midwest this year based on the 1982-1983 El Nino event. We are not forecasting a drought. This is just an observation based on an analog El Nino.
It can be said at this point in time that most of the Midwest will come into spring planting with adequate soil moisture. Only in the northern Plains could there be some short soil moisture.
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