El Nino is Back!

I was once having a discussion on climate change with a teacher. He told me, "The weather men can't tell me what is going to happen tomorrow, how do they know what is going to happen in the future with the climate." Now whether you believe this line of reasoning or not is up to you. I do know that climatologists are telling us at this time we should expect a weak to moderate El Nino event this fall that should last into next year. They also caution that it could strengthen in the coming months.

An El Nino southern oscillation (ENSO) is a change of the surface temperatures of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. It has been noted back in the 1500's off the coast of Peru. It usually occurs around Christmas time. The event name El Nino or The Boy gets its name from happening in conjunction with the birth of the Christ child at the same time. It is characterised by a warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean around the equator. It causes atmospheric conditions such as pressures and winds to change and can produce dramatic weather phenomena around the world.

What does this mean for what is going to happen in your neck of the woods? It means that El Nino pulls the jet stream down further over the South East. This means that during El Nino years we should experience a wetter than normal fall, a really wet winter, around normal spring, and a dryer summer. Rainfall can exceed 30% more than normal for this event. This would be most noticeable during the months of Jan., Feb., and March with rainfall in the 3 to 5 inches per month in this area. The probability of exceeding 4 inches in Jan. is about 80%. The probability of exceeding 5 inches of rain is 78% and the probability of exceeding 6 inches of rain is over 50%(These estimates are based on the publications below). The temperature for El Nino for this area shows that we can expect to see an average temperature of 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the fall and winter.

What does this mean for production? I would look at how is a wetter winter going to affect my crops and how would colder temperatures affect what I grow. If you are growing crops for a particular time window you may want to add a little more time to finish. If you are holding plants then you may want to make sure to scout for fungi and diseases more regularly. Also look at your pest complex and see if that will make any differences. Another area to look at is how your fertilizers are going to work during a cold, wet winter. Slow release fertilizers generally will release slower during the colder months and nitrogen and potassium will leach quicker with more rainfall if you are growing outdoors. So this would be a deficit to the grower as well as your plants already growing slower due to weather events. This should be taken into account if you are trying to hit a window of market timing.

Some more information on how El Nino affects agriculture and how this can affect the bottom line can be found at the following publications: "Economic Approach to Valuing Information with Application to Climate Information" http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FE801.

This publication gives you information on how to use climate data to make decisions for production purposes. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AE267, "Climate Forecasts and Decision Making in Agriculture."

Here is a website that tracks the climate and makes predictions and forecasts: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/

I hope this helps with some of your predictions and decision this fall growing season. And if we don't see much of a change in the weather my teacher may be correct in his assumptions about weathermen and climatologists.
Reference: "El Nino, La Nina and Florida's Climate: Effects on Agriculture and Forestry." The Florida consortium. 1999.

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