Rain finally fell on the Southern Plains the past couple of weeks. In fact, there could even be some wheat pasture. But, the resurgent La Niña suggests recent moisture is merely a respite ahead of a winter and spring that should be a whole lot like last year.
"We may have a repeat or a near repeat of last winter about everywhere in the U.S., although perhaps not as extreme," says Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University professor of ag meteorology.
Taylor explains last year's La Niña was the third strongest on record. It mirrored the other two strongest La Niña years in terms of extremes, from drought in the Southwest to flooding in the Missouri River Valley. La Niña conditions the other two years – in the mid 1950s and mid 1970s– weakened during the summer and re-strengthened in the fall again, just as is happening this year, Taylor says.
"This means drought is likely to continue in the drought-stricken states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico," says Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. "La Niña also often brings colder winters to the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Plains, and warmer temperatures to the Southern states."
In fact, John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas A&M University weather expert, says the historic Texas drought could last another five years, or even until 2020. Currently, about 95% of Texas is in either severe or exceptional drought. The past year was the worst one-year drought in the state’s history.
Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and Texas A&M University professor of atmospheric sciences, says, "We know Texas has experienced droughts that lasted several years. Many residents remember the drought of the 1950s, and tree-ring records show drought conditions occasionally last for a decade or even longer. I'm concerned because the same ocean conditions that seem to have contributed to the 1950s drought have been back for several years now and may last another 5-15 years."
Taylor sees another such drought on the horizon, too, but a little further down the road. "We'd expect to see such a drought again, but not this time," he says. "We'd expect to see it with the next drought that emerges in 4-5 years."
You can read more of about predictions for the coming winter in "Winter Redux" in the November issue of BEEF.