Ag meteorologists predict that 2005 will be a good year for forage producers in most of the country, at least during the early part of the growing season.

Normal to above-normal precipitation is forecast almost everywhere through spring and early summer. The only potential trouble spots are parts of the Northern Plains and Intermountain West, where new moisture may not be sufficient to end ongoing drought.

Cool, wet conditions are expected to continue throughout the South.

“The Southern Plains, (from Kansas south) have had ample moisture and the spring outlook predicts that to continue,” says Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University ag meteorologist.

Similarly, Brian Fuchs, regional climatologist with the High Plains Regional Climate Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says predictions for Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona show cooler temperatures and a continuous wet pattern into spring.

“This should help hay and pasturelands in these regions recover from previous drought years,” says Fuchs.

Both Fuchs and Taylor credit these wetter conditions to shifting weather patterns from a slight El Niño that began to take effect in late December.

“The South tends to be on the moist side of usual during El Niño events,” explains Taylor, who sees a somewhat positive outlook for the El Niño pattern to continue through June and July.

Cool, moist conditions are also expected this spring in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to Taylor, with the outlook for summer to be warm in that region. Taylor says summer moisture in the Southeast may also be high based on early activity from the Bermuda High, a semi-permanent area of high pressure in the North Atlantic Ocean.

In the East, winter and spring moisture and temperatures are expected to be near normal from Pennsylvania to Ohio.

“We don't see any indication of drought at this time,” says Taylor.

Down the center of the country — from North Dakota to Texas — Fuchs says the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is also showing a cooler-than-normal spring and early summer.

“This is the opposite of last year, when we came out of winter in a hurry with warm temperatures,” he says.

But he adds that the delayed warm-up should be good for forages by giving them a cooler start to the growing season.

Despite the wetter, cooler conditions across much of the country, drought will still be an issue in parts of the North and West.

“2004 brought near-normal weather to the Intermountain West and Great Plains, but near normal isn't enough to recover from three to four years of drought,” says Iowa State's Taylor.

He says the outlook calls for “drier conditions than usual for northern Kansas, Colorado and northward.”

Fuchs has similar comments. “We've seen some improvement in drought conditions across Colorado, Wyoming and Montana,” he says. “But the drought isn't going to be wiped out unless the Northern Plains receive significant spring storms that bring a lot of moisture.”

For 2005, Fuchs anticipates that these regions will maintain the status quo. He says outlooks from the CPC predict near-normal weather conditions, which would mean no great improvement in drought conditions, but also that the drought should not worsen.

Taylor says forage growers in the West should likely be prepared for several more years of drought. He explains that there appears to be a decadal effect for dryness in the Intermountain and High Plains areas, which seems to be connected with ocean temperatures north of Hawaii.

For instance, in 2004 these ocean temperatures were near normal to slightly cooler, as was the weather in the West. The previous three years, the ocean temperatures were warmer than normal, and the West had drought.

Taylor says current conditions have the ocean returning to warmer than usual for 2005 and beyond.

“Scientists feel there is a tendency for the sea to be warmer than usual for the next six to seven years.”

That could mean more drought years are ahead for the West. (To view ocean temperature anomalies, visit www.ElNino.noaa.gov.)

Taylor anticipates some irregular weather patterns for the next several years. He reports that there is a 19-year cycle of erratic weather in the U.S., and 2005 marks the beginning of the six most erratic years compared to the previous 12 years. This may mean more flooding, heat waves and drought are likely, especially from Illinois east.

For more weather information, visit:
Climate Prediction Center Forecasts and Outlooks:
www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/forecasts/
U.S. Drought Monitor:
drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html