Dry prairie summer expected

RED DEER — It could by a hot, dry summer for the Canadian Prairies if long-range forecasts prevail.

The current La Nina is dying and an El Nino is forming, said climatologist Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University in Nebraska.

“Going forward in the spring and summer I would look at El Nino coming back and it will probably be doing it a little faster than what all the models are indicating,” he said at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference held in Red Deer Feb.21-23.

Douglas develops long-range forecasts for commodity groups by analyzing sea surface temperatures, atmospheric conditions and jet streams, as well as comparing the current conditions to past analogue years. This year is comparable to the drought years of 1951, 1956, 1994, 2001 and 2014.

He forecasts a cool western Canadian spring with dry conditions continuing from eastern Alberta to western Manitoba with more moisture nearer to the Ontario border.

“It is not a particularly good spring forecast for you guys. You have to keep the cold and snow on the ground for quite a while,” he said.

Dryness will persist in the western United States and into the southern border regions of Western Canada.

“It will be hard for storms to get into Western Canada this upcoming summer, so you are looking toward a warm, dry summer,” he said.

The central Prairies may see normal precipitation.

“Even though the Prairies will have drought throughout the spring, I think things are going to improve,” he said.

Precipitation in July and August should improve through the U.S. Plains but western Texas is very dry. If this forecast pans out, they could be forced to move cattle out of the region.

The eastern corn belt is too wet, so planting will be delayed and there is a risk of early frosts for September.

Global conditions also show drought.

Australia is very dry, especially in the cattle-growing regions. Normally, La Nina gives Australia good moisture but this year it has received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation for the last 90 days. Rangeland is in poor condition and soils are dry and that will affect planting of winter wheat crops in the coming months.

“If we truly are going into El Nino this condition will get worse,” Douglas said.

South Africa is also dry.

Satellite data monitoring vegetation as of Feb. 18 also shows severe drought in Argentina that could worsen this year.

Crops in Brazil appear normal.

India and China have had a mild winter with good growing conditions for wheat, barley and rye.

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