Another leading weather service is calling for an unusually mild, dry winter on the Prairies.
Accuweather.com has issued a long-term forecast calling for dry, mild conditions across most of Western Canada’s grain growing regions.
“Drier and milder weather will be a dominant theme across the prairie region this winter as the polar jet stream gets displaced further to the north,” Accuweather said in a Canadian winter forecast issued Oct. 22.
“This pattern will greatly limit the amount and duration of Arctic air masses that normally impact the region.”
Accuweather said average temperatures across the West could be as much as 3 C higher than normal this winter.
“Significant snowfall events will be few and far between across the region,” it said.
Weather prognosticators throughout North America have been monitoring an unusually strong El Nino for the past few months.
It is expected to be one of the key factors influencing North American weather conditions between now and next spring.
Water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are two to three degrees higher than normal at tropical latitudes this fall, which indicates a high potential for abnormally mild winter conditions in Canada and the northern United States.
Tom Di Liberto, a meteorologist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the current El Nino is one of the top three El Ninos observed in the past 60 years.
The only stronger events since the early 1950s occurred in 1997-98 and in 1982-83, he said.
“We try to stay away from the super El Nino moniker, but it’s very strong,” Di Liberto said.
“We don’t see events like this too often.”
El Nino is an oceanic phenomenon that occurs at tropical latitudes, but its presence can affect temperatures and precipitation patterns throughout North America. Water temperatures observed during an El Nino normally peak in the late fall or early winter, but the effects on North American weather can be felt for several months afterward.
Di Liberto said the strength of the current El Nino is significant.
“The reason why strength is so important is because usually, the stronger the El Nino, the more likely you’ll see a reliable impact on weather across the mid-latitudes in North America.”
The potential impact on agricultural productivity in Western Canada will vary from region to region, depending on the amount of precipitation received over the next few months and residual soil moisture reserves.
David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said strong El Ninos usually mean less precipitation than normal in Western Canada, but not always.
Five of the last seven super El Ninos resulted in milder winter temperatures in Western Canada, he said.
Six resulted in lower-than-average precipitation.
Phillips said El Ninos generally allow forecasters to predict long-term weather conditions with greater certainty and accuracy.
The strong likelihood of a mild, dry winter could be detrimental to overall agricultural productivity in Western Canada.
“You don’t lose a crop in January, but for some growers in the western Prairies, especially some parts of Alberta, they came out of harvest with fairly dry conditions and there hasn’t been much (soil moisture) replenishment,” he said.
A milder winter could benefit some producers, especially in areas where soil moisture reserves are high.
“Growers might get on to their fields earlier … and ranchers …(might not see) the mortality rates that you’d normally find in other years.”
Phillips said the increased certainty of a mild, dry winter might also allow producers to manage their risk by adjusting cropping strategies, tweaking planting dates and planning marketing activities ahead of time.
Milder winter temperatures could also affect purchasing decisions for key farm inputs, including fuel, he said.
As well, Accuweather has predicted an increased risk of ice storms in Ontario and Quebec this winter.
Di Liberto said NOAA’s winter weather outlook is calling for cooler, wetter-than-normal conditions in the southern United States, from southern and central California to Texas and Florida.