The early weather trends of North America’s 2014-15 winter can be described as variable, volatile, or simply one of change.
Following a very cold November which gave an early taste of winter weather, official winter started in December with very mild weather and a leg up on avoiding a repeat of the 2013-14 season dominated by the polar vortex.
“It was something that came out of the blue,” said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino. “We took on more of an El Nino characteristic — where temperatures have been warm and it’s been rather wet, particularly in the southern and eastern United States.”
El Nino — where the equatorial Pacific Ocean off the South American coast has consistently above-normal temperatures — is a point of some controversy.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the Australia Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) both label the Pacific as being in a “neutral” condition. It is the opinion of DTN meteorologists that the Pacific is already in a weak El Nino phase, with such occurrences as recent storms in the western U.S. and a rainy scenario to start South America’s crop season as prominent features.
“There’s an ongoing discussion that we’re either in El Nino or right at the edge,” said South Dakota Extension State Climatologist Dennis Todey. “There’s a question about how much that’s going to continue.”
Temperatures showed variability again when they turned much lower in late December after a mild beginning to the month. Still, the rest of the winter season shows a low probability of matching the harsh, seemingly-endless cold weather of a year ago.
“I don’t think we’re going to lock in (with a cold pattern) as much as we did” in 2013-14, Todey said. “Last year, once we got cold we stayed cold. Even the cold that we’ve had seems worse than last winter, but actually it’s been fairly close to normal.”
As for precipitation, Palmerino looks for that feature to target the southern and eastern crop areas more than the western and the northern Midwest. “In terms of the Great Plains/northwest Corn Belt, they won’t see much,” he said. “The northwestern Midwest and the Plains will be rather dry throughout the remainder of the winter.”
Whether that drier trend in the northwestern Corn Belt is a problem is still to be determined. Todey said it’s too early to be worried, however.
“Am I concerned? No, but I’m aware (of drier soils),” Todey said. “But some drier ground could be a partial benefit because producers may see soils warm up faster in the spring and give an opportunity to do field work sooner.”
As for market reaction, DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom has not seen grain markets show much worry about potential winter impact on next season’s North America crop weather.
“With a round of cold weather and more snow moving into the Midwest, cash grain sales could remain slow in January. As always, basis and spreads will tell the story if the market starts to get nervous about having enough supplies to meet demand,” Newsom said.