2017 weather forecast looks positive for cattle country

Look for good moisture through the spring and summer for much of the U.S., especially the Southeast, which will break the drought.

Burt Rutherford, Senior Editor

February 3, 2017

5 Min Read

If attitudes at the Cattle Industry Convention weren’t already positive enough, the folks listening to Art Douglas’ weather outlook during the Cattle Fax outlook session had even more to be excited about.

In short, El Niño is back.

“We had an El Niño from 2014 through April 2016 and guess what’s happening? There’s a brand new El Niño. Warm water temperatures have suddenly developed off the coast of South America starting to extend westward into the South Pacific,” says the Creighton University professor emeritus and long-time CattleFax weatherman.

And that’s unusual. The last time we had a situation with two years in a row of El Niño with a little break of about 6 months, then another El Niño, you have to go all the way back to the early 90s. There was a long period of El Niño from 90 to 95.”

Given that news, the outlook for much of the country is positive heading into spring and summer.

Going into February, Douglas predicts the stormy period in California along the West Coast will end. “Just north along the Canadian border, we have a pretty strong jet forming with real strong westerly flow, which is going to allow cold fronts to come down through the Northern Plains,” he predicts.

Looking at the temperature forecast for February, Douglas sees very warm temperatures for the western United States, cool weather beginning to come down throughout the Canadian border region and remaining warm in the Southeast.

“Precip-wise, things are going to kind of dry out in the Southwestern United States for the month of February, stay dry along the Gulf Coast. But we’re still going to get moisture flowing north, so we should have normal to above normal precipitation for the Midwest.”

Spring weather

Going into the spring, Douglas is forecasting a persistent ridge of high pressure off the West Coast. That’s very typical of El Niño, he says. Just downstream from it, the forecast calls for a trough through Baja, Calif. For the Southeast, things remain very dry with the persistent ridge that’s the source of all the angst remaining firm.

“Between the trough in Baja and the ridge, we have good flow into the Southern Plains and midsection of the country,“ he says. “Finally, we have a weak trough developing in the Great Lakes in the spring, bringing down cold fronts. So we have a perfect combination of moisture coming up from the south and a lot of cold fronts coming down from the north. This will really turn things around precip-wise for the spring.”

Temperatures remain persistently warm all the way from Washington-Oregon down to Arizona, he says. “With that weak trough gradually developing in the Great lakes and Midwest, temperatures (will be) gradually cooling toward the middle to end of spring. But with that good southern flow coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, (expect a) good amount of precipitation all through the winter wheat areas, grazing areas of the United States.”

The main concern Douglas sees as we go forward into the spring and summer is dryness developing in the Northwest. But for the Southeast, things finally take a turn for the better—the drought in the Southeast will gradually shrink as we go from spring toward summer, he predicts.

“Precip-wise, again that southerly flow between the ridge on the West Coast and the trough in the midsection of the country is going to bring moisture into the Southern Plains in March. Moisture gets a little further north as we get into April and finally in May, the moisture blossoms throughout the winter wheat areas of the country into the Midwest, he says.

Summer outlook

The summer forecast calls for that persistent ridge still staying in the western United States, but moving a little inland. “That allows southerly flow along the West Coast, which is then going to allow the water temperatures to start warming off the coast of California. Also have a pretty strong ridge of high pressure off the Gulf of Alaska. Anytime we have a strong ridge in that position, generally speaking, the North Pacific warms.”

To the east of the ridge, a trough will develop in the midsection of the country with a southerly flow coming around a ridge off the East Coast. That, he says, is a perfect situation with a lot of cold fronts coming down in the summer through the midsection of the country and a lot of warm, tropical Atlantic moisture getting into the Southeastern U.S.

“If you look at the summer as a whole, temperatures stay warm in the western United States, dry conditions persist in the Pacific Northwest and a very poor monsoon in the Southwestern U.S. On the other hand, as we get east of the Rockies, it’s relatively wet from the mid Gulf Coast all the way up into the lower portion of the Midwest. And the Southeast portion of the U.S. finally gets their share of rain, come the summer.”

With the ridge persisting in the West, expect quite warm temperatures June, July and August, with the main heat coming in August. “East of the Rockies, with that trough persisting, northerly flow and fronts coming down, (expect a) relatively cool summer in the Midwest. And finally, along the East Coast, with that ridge offshore, there is some warmth, but it’s primarily in the Northeast.

For precipitation, Douglas expects good moisture conditions for June from the Gulf Coast all the way up into the Northeastern U.S. While it will weaken a little as we get into July, he says there’s no indication of dryness anyplace in the Midwest. Finally in August, the moisture is weakening and not doing very good in the Southwest.

“Bottom line, a new El Nino is coming. It’s very unusual to have two El Ninos back to back. It looks this time around, the drought in the Southeast is going to be broken very quickly, associated with the new El Niño. The problem with El Niños developing this early, we typically have a poor monsoon in the Southwest and if there’s a concern for major drought, it’s going to focus on the Pacific Northwest.”

About the Author(s)

Burt Rutherford

Senior Editor, BEEF Magazine

Burt Rutherford is director of content and senior editor of BEEF. He has nearly 40 years’ experience communicating about the beef industry. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works from his home base in Colorado. He worked as communications director for the North American Limousin Foundation and editor of the Western Livestock Journal before spending 21 years as communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. He works to keep BEEF readers informed of trends and production practices to bolster the bottom line.

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