Several climate prediction professionals are predicting dry weather conditions for the Corn Belt this summer. That's due to a recent rapid change in sea-surface temperatures in tropical Eastern Pacific waters, says Mike Palecki, regional climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

"There has been an extremely fast disappearance of El Niño," says Palecki. "The sea-surface temperatures in the tropical East Pacific are actually cooler than normal now. What that indicates is that we could be moving into a La Niña."

The implications of La Niña are the potential for summer dryness in the Corn Belt, especially the western Corn Belt, he says. La Niña conditions are the exact opposite of El Niño conditions, which are typically associated with greater-than-normal summertime precipitation in the western Corn Belt.

Still, sea-surface temperatures could change yet again between now and summer. "Some private forecasting firms believe that the La Niña is going to intensify rapidly and that it will become a full-blown La Niña by the summertime," says Palecki. "The official word from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is that we are transitioning to a neutral El Niño Southern Oscillation state but that the models are very uncertain after the March-May period."

Private forecasting firms tend to be a bit more aggressive in their forecasts than official government forecasts, says Palecki. "I'm not 100% in agreement with the private forecasters who are predicting a strong summertime La Niña," he says, "but I am leaning towards more of a La Niña outlook than the current CPC position."

Spring soil moisture levels should be adequate, however, no matter what type of weather conditions develop this summer, points out Palecki. "Generally speaking, we have enough winter precipitation to recharge the topsoil layers throughout most of the Corn Belt. In fact, there is potential for stream flooding in much of Illinois, eastern Iowa and northern Indiana right now, which might make it difficult for early planting to occur in low-lying parts of those areas."

Above- and below-normal precipitation have equal chances of occurring this spring for most of the Corn Belt, adds Palecki. He says that it is still too early to accurately predict precipitation levels for the summer.

For more information about flooding forecasts for the North Central region, visit this Web link: www.crh.noaa.gov/ncrfc/content/water/fop.php. For more discussion about the transition from El Niño to La Niña, click on this link: www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring.

Source: John Pocock, Corn E-Digest