You could say that the El Nino factor is sitting this one out. If the summer is a bust, it won't take the blame – at least not directly. If the crop comes in as a bin-buster, it won't get the credit. Again, at least not directly.
Weather gurus might say that by not being a player this summer, there is an impact: other factors are allowed to become players that would otherwise be on the sidelines. The fact is that the El Nino and La Nina cycle is in neutral, says Ken Scheeringa, Indiana assistant state climatologist.
The El Nino is the warm phase of the cycle. The La Nina is the cool phase. These terms refer to warming and cooling of waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean. When the temperature goes either above or below normal and stays there, barometric pressure is affected. That affects air circulation patterns aloft, and influences weather patterns around the globe.
The cycle has been tracked back for decades. Scientists first became aware of what impact it could have in the late 1950s, and by the drought of 1983, they could explain how it impacted weather in the Midwest. That's when it started to become a term farmers would be familiar with, even today.
In the neutral phase, where the cycle is now, sea surface temperatures are neither much above nor much below normal. There are some indications that a new phase of the cycle may begin by late summer, but as of now, the cycle is stuck in neutral.
Scheeringa says there is some talk that another La Nina might develop, although it's premature to say with any certainty that it will happen. That would make the third La Nina phase without an El Nino phase.
While it seems unusual, Scheeringa says it has happened before. Stay tuned for further developments.