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Agriculture Today

Is your cup of La Niña half empty or half full?

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August 24, 2011 | 2,884 views | Post a comment

COLLEGE STATION -- Recent predictions by the National Weather Service of a 50-percent chance there will be another La Niña in the southern Pacific Ocean this fall can be taken two ways -- with optimism or pessimism, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University professor and Texas state climatologist. Some may view the prediction with a sense of gloom, but before they get too pessimistic, they should remember the Weather Service is saying there’s “only” a 50-percent chance, Nielsen-Gammon said.

The contribution of the very strong La Niña pattern of mid-2010 to the worst drought in Texas history continues to be felt throughout the state, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel reports.

“To look on the optimistic side, there is an equal 50-percent chance of having no La Niña at this time,” he said. “And even if there is a moderate La Niña, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will definitely have a dry winter again, it just means it will be more likely.”

It’s also important to remember that the large computer models used by the Weather Service are predicting “a weak to moderate” La Niña, Nielsen-Gammon said. “Not nearly as strong as the forecasts were saying at this time last year.”

In comparison, the La Niña that developed in mid-2007 and lasted into 2009 was a moderate one, and though it was associated with a dry summer, it was not nearly so devastating as the current weather pattern, he said.

If you view the cup as half-empty, and assume that we will have another La Niña starting this fall, it still shouldn’t herald as severely a dry year as what we’re currently experiencing, he said.

But, Nielsen-Gammon warned, better than worst doesn’t guarantee the hardship the agricultural sector is experiencing will just go away. Abnormal La Niña or not this fall, a second year of even moderate drought would leave many water supplies in even worse shape.

“We already have had an extremely dry year, so we should see more precipitation next year, but there is still a very good chance it won’t be good enough to take us out of the drought, and we will still be having problems with dry conditions even into next summer,” he said.

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Coastal Bend District, including Karnes County, reported dry and windy conditions persisted, worsening the drought. The cotton harvest continued with fair yields reported. The soybean harvest was nearly completed. Most ponds were extremely low or completely dry. Ranchers continued to supply supplemental feed and water to livestock. Large amounts of hay were being brought in from out of state. Herds were being reduced or sold out entirely.

AgriLife Extension district reporters for the Southwest District, including Wilson, Gonzales, Guadalupe, and Bexar counties, reported the region remained almost completely dry. Record high or near-record high temperatures of above 100 degrees aggravated the drought. The entire region remained in wildfire-alert status. Many stock tanks were dry and water levels of some wells were low. Forage availability remained far below average for this time of the year. The corn and sorghum harvests were finished. Peanuts, pecans, and landscape nursery crops continue to make good progress wherever irrigation water was still available. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feeding for livestock.

Compiled from Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports.

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