Hay growers who didn't much care for this year's growing-season weather may want to brace themselves for the months ahead, says Elwynn Taylor, climatologist at Iowa State University.
La Niña dominated U.S. weather last winter, bringing extremely dry conditions to Texas, New Mexico and other parts of the southwestern U.S. and wet conditions to the Ohio River Valley. The same kind of event has apparently been gathering strength in recent weeks.
"A La Niña brings on a drought," says Taylor. "People in Texas and Oklahoma who are old enough may remember the droughts of the early 1950s and 1974. Both of those droughts were associated with very strong winter La Niñas, as was the drought this past summer.
"All of the things we saw this spring and summer – the drought, the river flooding from Montana to Missouri and the tornados last March – were all highly forecastable. Nothing was a surprise."
In fact, the La Niña of last winter was the third-strongest on record. The strongest ones were those that preceded the droughts of the 1950s and 1974. "In both of the previous cases, the La Niña weakened come summertime, but then strengthened again in the fall. There are some indications this one is doing the same thing."
Taylor puts the odds at better than 50-50 that the La Niña will continue to strengthen in the months ahead and deliver winter weather similar to last winter's. That's based mostly on information from Australian government meteorologists, widely recognized as the leading authorities on La Niña and El Niño weather cycles.
"It's not a 90% chance yet, but it is more than a coin flip," he says. The official U.S. forecast, as of mid-September, indicated a La Niña winter with cold in the North, hot and dry in the South and wet/heavy snow from Oregon to Montana and in the eastern Cornbelt.
As for growing-season weather in 2012, Taylor notes that the drought of the early 1950s lasted three years. "In 1974, though, a bad-weather year was followed by a not-so-bad year. If a strong La Niña comes back this year, we can only hope things turn out more like they did for 1975."
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