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Meteorologists Look at El Niño and Make Predictions

Meteorologists Look at El Niño and Make Predictions
You may see less snow than normal.

At least part of the unusually weather patterns from this concluding growing season were tied to the El Niño/La Niña cycles some climatologists believe. These two terms, once foreign to a farmer's vocabulary, now indicate a good deal about what ensuing seasons might be like. Maybe 90 day predictions aren't yet accurate enough to lock in marketing decisions on every acre, but they certainly are improving all the time.

Right now, most meteorologists are looking for an influence of these pockets or warm weather. In the Midwest, particularly in Indiana, that means about normal temperatures, but much lower rain and snow totals. In general terms, that means most of Indiana could experience about half of its normal winter precipitation. Since most of that typically comes in the form of snow, an average Indiana snow total for the '09-'10 year could range from 11 to 22 inches.

All bets are off if you're talking about the South Bend area west along the Lake Shore, climatologists notes. The Lake Effect snow phenomenon is very real, and could mean much higher snowfall totals for major cities and communities along the Great Lakes, or even down into Indiana by several miles. However, these areas are still likely to experience lots more snow than other areas in Indiana.

Meteorologists and ag climatologists in agreement include Ken Scheeringa at Purdue University, assistant state climatologist, and a meteorologist at a TV station in South Bend. Also, Greg Soulje, an independent climatologist, is thinking along similar lines.

Look for more details from Soulje in the January issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He'll also provide basic explanations of how the El Niño/La Niña cycle has behaved recently. That includes the fact that an El Niño event is underway, although it's difficult to determine how long it will last or exactly how much influence it will have in advance.

El Niño and La Niña events actually refer to sea surface temperatures far out in the Pacific Ocean, well off the coast of the U.S. This phenomenon was first documented in the mid-50's. Jim Newman, a retired Purdue agronomist and long-time Indiana Prairie Farmer columnist, now retired, helped pioneer and develop theories and interpretations of El Niño and La Niña events in the early days.

'El Niño' refers to the warm phase when sea surface temperatures rise above normal. 'La Niña' is a period when temperatures of surface water are below normal. In between are neutral periods. What happens with these temperatures is important because it affects air circulation patterns aloft in the atmosphere around the world. It's the air circulation patterns that determine what trends over the next few months should develop in any given area.

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