El Niño winter could bring warm, dry summer | TSLN.com

El Niño winter could bring warm, dry summer

El Niño is here to stay… at least through the winter season, explained Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension Climate Field Specialist.

"It is one of the primary drivers of our climate that affects us on a multi-year scale here in North America," Edwards said. "In South Dakota, very strong El Niño conditions, like we have this year, usually mean warmer than average conditions in the winter season."

But what happens in the growing season following an El Niño winter? "As fall harvest season is upon us, it will soon be time to make some early seed and chemical purchasing decisions for the 2016 crop year, and perhaps some information about those summer seasons will help inform those decisions," Edwards said.

She explained that the current El Niño, as determined by sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is ranked as number two or three among the strongest El Niños since 1950. The comparable years are 1982-83 and 1997-98.

Looking back at the May through September growing season following the 82-83 and 97-98 El Niño winters, Edwards said that in general, very strong El Niños tend to dissipate quickly.

"This limited size of just two growing seasons, combined with other variables creates some uncertainty in the summer season forecast," she said. "In both summers of 1983 and 1998, warmer than average conditions affected eastern South Dakota, with the largest temperature anomalies centered on Iowa."

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Differences arose in the precipitation for each season. Edwards said that in 1983, near average or wet conditions occurred statewide during the spring season. Then dry conditions prevailed most of the summer, during July, August and September. "At any given time during the 1983 growing season, there was some level of minor to moderate drought conditions somewhere in the state," she said.

In 1998, June and July were notably wet in western/southwestern South Dakota, though the entire growing season ended up above average for rainfall in those areas. July 1998 had some short-term drought in the northern tier counties, and then September was exceptionally dry and warm.

"It is too early to tell for sure what summer 2016 will bring, but after looking at two recent summers following strong El Niños, it may be best to be prepared for some amount of warm and dry conditions," Edwards said.

Edwards said East River counties tend to be more susceptible to drought during summers like those than the western half of the state.

–SDSU Extension

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