Our latest calculation of the sea surface temperature departure in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean for the first half of February stands at 1.8 degrees Celsius above normal. This is significantly down from the 2.9 degrees C above normal observed during the month of January.
The main question as we head into the 2016 growing season will be: How fast do the sea surface temperatures continue to cool? This could have a significant impact on the weather patterns in the central U.S.
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A report from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology states that there have been 26 El Nino events since 1900. Around 50 percent of these have been followed by a neutral year, 40 percent by La Nina and 10 percent remained in El Nino conditions. Of greatest concern would be a rapid shift to La Nina, as that would likely lead to the greatest chance of drought in parts of the central U.S.
Heading into the month of March, the weather pattern seems to be shaping up as a season that will tend to follow spring El Nino conditions. This would imply wetter-than-normal conditions from east Texas and the southeast Plains eastward across the Delta and Southeast states and northward across the southern and eastern Midwest. This would imply fieldwork and planting delays in these areas, as soils are already mostly saturated due to heavy precipitation this winter.
We will be watching how far to the west this precipitation can extend into the Southern Plains. The inability to produce some significant precipitation in the Southern Plains winter wheat belt during March may be of concern if sea surface temperatures continue to fall.
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